How do I Recruit Talented Employees to My Startup Team?

Posted on January 10, 2018

Recruiting For A Startup

Question: How do you recruit for a startup team?

John: That’s a great question, we’re doing that currently here, right now, in fact, it’s, it’s interesting to see Blake gone, because I’ve been gone more than Blake, actually raising capital, we just closed our $2 million seed round for Engine for some really good, e-commerce savvy investors and…so we’re in the process of doing the same thing, we’re team five right now, have what six open positions now? Everything from a from a C. Level operations person to four engineers to basically an outreach consultant, how to…how to talk to other developers about what we’re building and to get their feedback, so it’s pretty neat to do it and I’ve done this before so, the first few hires of a startup team are the most important, you know once you get about five to twelve people you’ve really set the D.N.A. of the culture of the company for a long time, and as I look back on our last company, we did that really, really well, I mean the five people that were the founding team at Acumen were five of the best people there, they all had upward skills and they all ended up managing teams of 20 to 30 to 40 at some point when we hit our peak of success and that’s really strange to find that, but…so what we did we had five great people, and then as we move to twelve, which is the phase we’re in right now here at Engine,  A’s attract A’s, so we had five A players and then as you got five more and seven more, they, they were also A’s and we did that really well. It was really easy to communicate the culture at that point, I don’t know that we even necessarily did it, but from 12 to 30 was likewise the same, we fired our first couple people at about 30 and they-they were not bad employees, they just weren’t A players, they were not, they were driven by the same things we were, they were good employees, they would clock in at 9:00  and you couldn’t say anything bad about them from 9 to 5 and then they would be out the door at five o’clock, they didn’t have the passion, they didn’t have the drive, they didn’t have the love for what we were building like the others, so, boy, we weeded out some mediocre people at that, at that point. People that probably wouldn’t have been fired from any other job and where we started the mess that up was right after we figured out Facebook’s race, so we grew too quickly, so we grew from probably a million and a half dollars of revenue in this one business to over one hundred million dollar annual run rate and we did that for like four-five months, so we went from 30 to 50 people fairly rationally and then from 50 to 250 people irrationally, can you fog up this mirror? Yes! And so, we hired based off resumes rather than off passion and shared love of what we were building and, boy, we suffered from it. The first five people in the startup have to be athletes, they have to be able to play multiple roles, they have to be infinitely flexible, you’re not hiring for a position in those first five usually, other than engineers obviously, you don’t want your engineers necessarily running around doing whatever.

John Max: like sweeping the floors?

John: Exactly, and as you get up to about thirty people in your startup, you start to hire specialists and that’s a big switch, and we did that one well, but at the end when you’re hiring all specialists, and we thought we needed a grown-ups in the room, in your forty-year-old people with twenty year resumes in that field, they came in with a preconceived notion of how to do things and they’re often wrong so that’s where you start…

John Max:  yeah and I think, I think what’s super interesting is when it comes to…so like last night at what? 11:30? We’re communicating and talking. The first couple people that you bring into the startup, as you said, they have to be driven, have to be passionate and they have to have a common goal, something that was said, so we had a first board meeting yesterday and something that I couldn’t get out of my head, that one of our investors said, was that you have to think of your company, especially starting out, you’ve got to think of it as a sports team and your family and you love each other and you care about each other but the best players play and I think that when you’re, when you’re, when you’re recruiting talent, you need to recruit on culture first and then you need to recruit on: is this person, is this person willing to put in the work to be the best? So what I mean by that is that, if you go to…if you came to me and said hey, you know we’re going to bring on another marketer, or we’re going to bring on x amount of person, whoever that is, you have one of two people, you have the person who gets excited because it’s competition and then you have the person who gets afraid and starts acting out of fear and you want to hire people in the beginning who are competitive, you want to hire people who want to be the best and they’re not…they’re, they’re, they’re not afraid to flex that muscle every once in a while. 

John: No, you’re right, I mean what I say, the first five people set the D.N.A. It’s really entrenched by the time you get to 12 people, so you’ve got to be really careful with those and I don’t mean your hourly employees that aren’t doing…the people that are really core to your startup and building stuff.