To hire your first startup employee, begin with a list of 1,500 people
Yes, that’s a lot of work, but there’s no real alternative
The best way to hire someone for your startup is through your own network, but even the most well-connected startup founder will find themselves tapped out pretty quickly.
So what is a founder to do if they want to find a good candidate? Recruiting firms can be really good at finding candidates if you have a very clear picture of what you need and a tight job requisition. For early-stage founders, however, that can often prove to be tricky. In practice, hiring at startups starts off as an iterative process that helps you crystallize your requirements as you have conversations with high-quality candidates.
But how the hell do you optimize for that? Well, we spoke with Chris Quintero, the CEO at Sourcingsprints, to get the inside line on how founders can run a successful hiring process for the first time.
“Referrals are great, everyone likes referrals, but most of the time, founders strike out there very quickly,” says Quintero. “Early-stage founders post on social media, email a couple of people, and when they still haven’t hired anybody, the process stalls. Then you need to find a different approach. The next step is to hire outside of your immediate network.”
He points out that startups can take the tried and tested approach to hiring, but that can take a lot of time: “The traditional recruiting model works well if you are a later-stage company or if you are backfilling an existing role, so you know exactly what you’re looking for.”
But your first hire in a category, Quintero suggests, is more like a fishing expedition — one made much harder because nobody has heard of you or your company yet.
“The process is pretty straightforward. From a sourcing standpoint, it’s all about identifying a couple of hypotheses around personas that could be a fit for the role. You start by putting together a job requisition so you have some agreement between yourself and your co-founders on what the core requirements are,” explains Quintero.
From there, start mapping out companies that are similar to yours and look for comparable talent. “It’s very hard to know whether you’re looking for a unicorn or somebody that actually exists.”
In several of my own startups, this “Does this person exist?” question has bitten me pretty hard. Of course, you want an experienced person who can grow and eventually lead a team, but they should be a great contributor for now, have relevant, recent experience, possess the ability do both front- and back-end architecture design while ensuring that all compliance and legal frameworks are followed and have a Rolodex of 20 to 30 people who you could hire as soon as it makes sense to.
That would be great. Sadly, that person may not exist.
In the rest of this article, we’ll look at how to find and reach out to these potential candidates.