Hiring for Your Start Up

by Damien Lane

Our focus at Episode 1 is on helping our businesses grow over the 12 – 18 month period post investment, with a view to raising additional capital at the end of that period.  We are focused on trying to back teams trying to build a really significant, valuable business, that typically starts with growing a team to get started on that journey.  So, armed with £2m of investors’ money and faced with key hiring decisions, a founder has tough decisions to make.  Having spent the last 3-6 months pounding the streets persuading investors that her business can be a world-beating behemoth, the temptation is to hire someone from a top corporate or from a much bigger business where

Our listicle of things to consider when hiring right at the beginning of the start up journey:

Be clear what you want a hire to do – we often see inexperienced founders collecting heads, “ooh, she is smart, she’d be great”, then struggling to find a role for them.  Not fair to the individual, a waste of money and an unnecessary  distraction for you as you help the new recruit find a role that he or she may not be suited to.

Don’t outsource recruitment – culture is so important, that you need to make sure any new arrival understands that culture. You also need to believe that they will fit into and contribute in a positive way to that culture.  I was amazed that the Founder / CEO of Octopus Investments, Simon Rogerson, interviewed every single new prospective employee even though there were well over 200 employees at that point.  Firm culture is one of the reasons that business has been so successful.

Write a job description for every senior hire; writing it down and sharing with your Board and advisors to make sure you are clear what skills you are looking for.  That doesn’t mean that new team member can’t do a bit of everything, but understanding what their main role is will make them more productive and hopefully happier.

Apart from the usual things all employees are looking for (IQ, EQ, ability to learn), look for someone who has a strong empathy with your mission and someone who has demonstrated excellence in whatever they have done before.  If you  can match skills like these with a sense of your mission, that is a powerful combination at this stage.

Don’t worry about hiring for the next 10 years.  Focus on whether your new sales manager wants to sell AND has the ability and desire to manage a small team of sales people.  Don’t worry about whether she can run a team of 500 across three continents; you can worry about that when you get there and who knows; that great, young, smart, enthusiastic candidate with the can-do attitude and willingness to learn and adapt might grow into a brilliant Enterprise Sales Director, while you develop into the CEO of a 1,000 person software enterprise.

Make the interviewing process relevant – tech recruitment (always?) includes a coding test;  interview your internal sales person on the phone to start with – that’s how your customers will be meeting them, after all.  Get you customer service person to deal with a customer service issue in a role play, anything that will help figure out whether that candidate is going to be a positive contributor.

Finally, as the saying goes hire slowly and fire quickly.  If someone is a bad fit, or not working out, then move them on.  They won’t be happy working with you and you won’t be happy with them.

Not sure all start ups would go as far as Tony Hsieh of Zappos, who offered every new employee $3,000 to leave the business after a two to three week trial period.  What a message!  If you would prefer to have $3,000 dollars in cash than a job here, we would rather you took the money and left.  Amazingly, Hsieh reported that between 1% – 2% of employees take up the offer.

Now THAT is recruitment success.

 

 

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