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Startup Recruiting: Lessons Learned From Experienced Founders

August 1, 2022

February 8, 2022

Building a startup is never easy. It involves a wide range of tasks and challenges in different areas — from finding funding and establishing a strategy to building a great product and finding your customer base.

Yet nothing is more important than finding the right team. Choosing the right group of people early on can be a major predictor of how things will develop. But recruiting is a skill that takes practice, and without much prior experience, founders are prone to the same mistakes.

There’s no guaranteed way to nail recruiting the first time, but it helps to listen to the wisdom of our forebears. We talked to dozens of experienced startup founders, asking them to share the biggest lessons they learned about recruiting. Here’s what we found.

Always prioritize recruiting

Building the right team is in many ways more important than anything else you do as a founder, because without the right people in place your startup is doomed to fail regardless of how good your vision or idea is, how much funding you have, how much demand there is, and so on.

As Pete Grant from Safesite told us, “People are your business, you have to get the best people on your team early.” Recruitment should be one of the first stages when building your startup, and it’s not something to rush through or take lightly. The people you get in place at the beginning will set the tone for the success of your entire project.

Start recruiting early

It’s never too early to start focusing on recruiting. Brendan Weitz from sales platform Journey told us that he wishes he had started building his recruiting plan during his Y Combinator stage. If you deprioritize strategic recruiting while fundraising or building an MVP,  you risk entering  crucial early stages of your startup with an incomplete or under-qualified team.

Start planning ahead for your next key three to five hires and showcase your brand to potential employees via social media, post on recruiting platforms, reach out directly to promising candidates, and more.

Think about the ROI and prioritize recruiting in your spending

In the early days of building a startup, every penny counts. It’s tempting to try and cut back in some areas to fund others, but recruiting is one area where you should absolutely prioritize when it comes to spending.

Hari Nayak from Groundswell talks about how his goals moved from how to spend less money to raising money to spend as much as possible on hiring a stellar team. The ROI on recruiting is very high — if you invest in attracting and hiring top talent, you’ll see the benefits in your bottom line very quickly. Recruiting a top team quickly, in fact, is one of the main reasons to raise money in the first place.

Of course, the way you spend the money is also important. Take some time to develop a strong recruitment strategy so you’re focusing your efforts on the most successful channels for you, developing your messaging around your vision, values, and culture to attract the right people.

Work out who you are hiring and how to do it

An essential step in any startup’s recruiting journey is getting clear on who you want to hire. This way, you’ll be able to build a much more effective hiring plan, targeting your efforts in the right places and boosting your chances of success.

Marissa Cuevas Flores from microTERRA talked to us about the importance of defining an ideal candidate profile. By outlining exactly what you’re looking for in your new recruit, you can tailor your outreach much more accurately — using the right channels and the right messaging. Otherwise, you’re just stumbling around in the dark, relying on guesswork, and vulnerable to bad decisions.

Your candidate profile should contain information like hard and soft skills, experience, personality traits, and values, along with anything else you think is relevant to the role you’re hiring for.

Be open to non-traditional hiring

The world of work is changing. The pandemic accelerated a trend that was already underway — people are getting tired of the traditional models of working. Clocking in for full-time work every day with one employer isn’t so attractive anymore and with the rise of remote work, employees have more opportunities than before.

JJ Damin from Mission Bay Talent says, “Lots of folks don’t want to change jobs, but are open to working on the side.” However, many companies are fixated on hiring full-time employees only, cutting themselves off to many talented candidates who want a less conventional role.

The next winning startups will offer more flexible and innovative models of hiring and working. Having one permanent team is always going to be a strength, but there are also many benefits to hiring more flexible roles around that like freelancers, contractors, and part-time team members, as long as you can maximize the quality of your extended team.

At The Swarm, it’s our goal to help startups recruit the very best talent by building your own recruiting engine — driving your project forward from the very beginning with a team that gets your values, gels with your mission, and brings all the right skills to the table.