What do you do when your startup has to fight to hire the rare few people qualified for the job?
That fight occurs anywhere your startup is located. Shanghai, Kenya, San Diego, London, Moscow.
It has again recently restarted in Silicon Valley where startups are trying to out-recruit Facebook who is trying to draw people out of Google who is trying to hire all the best people looking for jobs.
The heated hiring is a sign that the next Big Wave is rising, powered by several lesser yet still large waves (e.g. cloud computing, social networking, and latest life science waves). That is good news (new markets for startups).
The bad news is that hiring into a startup in such hot conditions makes recruiting much more difficult, some will say nearly impossible.
So what is a startup CEO to do? Here are some tips to help you:
- Focus first on hiring your Core Team. One for VP Business Development (marketing + sales), one for VP Engineering plus you, CEO. That core team must be able to get you through the Chaos phase, the outcome of which is what you will build for your first product/service. This core team will be able to raise the seed round of financing. Their spirit will mark the culture of the company.
- The next small batch will be the handful of individual contributors who build the first product/service. Mostly techies, they have to be very able to deliver what must become the first great thing the outside world will see and use. Most often, they will be very well known to the VP Engineering. Few strangers ever are hired to fill this small group of employees.
- The next hiring wave is for the Launch Team. They bring functional expertise needed to (a) start building a real company and (b) launch the first product/service. Human Resources, Controller or even CFO, Marketing, Sales, Operations are most needed. Hands-on, do-it-now people who fit the company culture are required. This calls for experienced recruiting skills. It can be partially outsources (recruiters) but internal interviewing by the core team is mandatory to pick the right person.
I'll stop there with the waves of hiring. The stages of growth that follow are similarly demanding but have different characteristics. For now, let's move on to more how-to.
- Prepare well for recruiting strangers. A recent blog by Ben Horowitz is filled with excellent details that will spur your brain, stimulate your mind and give you lots of things to think about as you prepare your recruiting plan. This takes a LOT of time and is very demanding. You have to put words on paper. A job description is a must. Your core team has to agree on what you are looking for in the candidate for each position.
- Use your startup network immediately. You have lawyers, investors, and friends, as well as advisers and mentors to look to. Serial entrepreneurs excel at employing their network to do recruiting. Ask everyone to comment on your job descriptions, send you candidates, make contact with specific individuals, and whatever else you think they can do to help you recruit.
- Engage recruiters quickly and carefully. Most recruiters will be paid if you hire their candidates. Include estimates of their fees in your financial forecasts (a typical oversight). Find ones successful in your industrial area, the new market you are in, that understand startups. I have known founder CEOs who get to know such recruiters years before they will need them. During hot recruiting times the best are going to be very busy and may turn you, the stranger, down. And pick wisely. Talk to companies they have recruited for. Check them out before you open your hiring needs to their work. Some are great recruiters, the rest are not so great. Pick the best.
- BEWARE: Only you will do the recruiting, not your investors/angels/VCs. Serial startup veterans know the recruiting is done by the startup, not the people with the money. Yes, the media blogs talk about networks, contacts and more from the people with the startup capital, but the real world knows those people are not going to grab a phone and presto you have all your missing people hired. That's up to you. I've seen many a first time founder depressed to realize the VC could not produce the missing executives. So be realistic. This is your startup and your recruiting challenge.
- Inhouse full time recruiters are usually an excellent recruiting solution. Startup veterans have a short list of who they are and have known them for a number of years. Find them, know when you might need them and get ready to pay their fees. They have proved to be excellent producers.
For other tips, go to the search box on this blog, type in "recruiting" and take a look at what else I have suggested about recruiting.
BOTTOM LINE: The number one reason startups fail to meet their growth plans is their inability to hire the great people fast enough. When a local market gets hot, the competition for great people gets intense. That is where the great recruiting startups begin to pull ahead of their desperate competitors. Recruiting wins are big for a startup. They are central to building your unfair advantage.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!