To hire great talent for startups, there not just “one thing” that you need any more

In discussions with 5 startup founders last week in the SF bay area, it is clear to me that the “hiring” challenge has gotten acute.

Here are some horror stories:

1. One founder spent time meeting the potential recruit’s at his kids school and swimming class locations so that he could get more time with the candidate. He mentioned he did not actually see his kids, but since the candidate used to come early to the school to pick up his kids, he could spend time with them.

2. Another CEO had his admin pick up and drop a candidates wife (who broke her leg) to the hospital. She was apparently covered by insurance, but not “top of the line” insurance, so the admin they showed them how much they would save if her husband were employed by their startup.

3. A third company has started a “get your spouse trained at work day“, where the significant other would come into work for a day each week (if they were unemployed) and find a way to get trained on a discipline they liked, which might open doors for them to other opportunities.

Formula for hiring great people
One of many formulae for hiring great people

I often get the question about “What are the best practices to hire great people” more than any other question in the Bay area.

What I know is that a set of “best practices” wont get you the best candidates. It will get you the rest. Why? To attract the best candidates you need to have a unique combination of meaningful work, great package and an irresistible culture.

The operative word on those 3 is unique. You will need to find uniqueness and differentiation on all 3 parameters.

As VC’s are getting picker and going up the food chain in terms of investing in “only proven startups with a lot of traction”, so are candidates.

It would be the case that a few years ago, you could ask a few employees to actively recommend people who they have worked with before and get a bonus for referring them.

Now, it is not unheard of when the hunter becomes hunted.

One of my good friends was looking to hire a colleague from a previous company, but he ended up joining the friend’s startup instead.

Meaningful work drives a lot of technical folks. Meaningful includes challenging, different and new opportunities. Surprisingly, it is also what a lot of non technical people crave.

A great package in itself with unique benefits is becoming table-stakes even for the best people. Now, the intangible benefits that extend to the candidates family are the thing to covet.

Finally, an irresistible culture that not only encourages success and outcomes but also is quirky to attract a specific segment of candidates is gaining more traction. Who knew that most of the people at a startup I knew were all big fans of Mochi ice cream? I did not. Turns out they only attracted rabid fans of that snack, who were also all great developers in a particular technology.

Hiring good people is always hard. I would focus on attracting a segment of people who are good with a uniquely set of tailored benefits, culture and work that makes it a little more easy to have you be self selected.

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One thought on “To hire great talent for startups, there not just “one thing” that you need any more”

  1. That said, I don’t think one should look for the ‘most ideal’ candidate to hire. If the person has an acceptable level of talent required for the job and has a great attitude, go for him / her. Then on, it’s up to you in the organization, to keep the fire in her / his belly burning. JMHO..

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