“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?” - legend has it that this is how Steve Jobs poached John Scully from Pepsi.
However, John Scully is a cautionary tale for founders looking for talent, since Scully forced Jobs out of Apple and was himself forced out by the board eventually. It’s a fact that talent can make or break a venture and for startups at the founding or growth stage the right talent becomes even more crucial. Surveys show that the third most common reason for startup failures is having the wrong talent.
Hiring badly is expensive not only from the point of view of revenue and productivity but also employee morale and client relationship. The infamous statistic is that the first 10 employees will determine the next 100. So, how does one get it right? Is it blind luck or is there a method?. Going by the experiences of a number of startup founders there does seem to be a method to it. The starting point being – startups need talent more than talent needs a startup. That being a given there are two fundamentals that need to be kept in mind - the startup will have to be the magnet to draw in the right talent and while the right skillset is a must, the right attitude is crucial. This is where the hiring strategy for startups becomes key.
So how does one magnetise the right talent? Start with broadcasting your vision and how you’re making it a reality. The clearer this is the faster it will reach your tribe. Layer it with the company’s culture – the value system, work ethics, attitude. Offer attractive working terms like equity, flexi hours, remote working, internships, short term contracts. And above all the founder/s need to have great visibility. Potential tribe members need to be able to see, hear and understand you to figure out whether you’re who they would love to work with.
The hiring method for startups is thus to project a vision that resonates with the right talent.
But, how do you spot whether the candidate across the table is right for you? While skillset is a hygiene factor, a behavioural interview is the way to separate the men from the boys or the women from the girls. The DNA of a perfect startup candidate is made up of passion for the work, a can-do attitude, the ability to wear different hats, the ability and desire to learn on the job, hands-on experience, functional people skills and a commitment to the cause. While talking to potentials you will need to steer your conversation to check for these qualities.
Auditions instead of interviews is a great way to check whether the fit is there. Meeting in a social setting, like a coffee shop, will also allow you to assess whether you will like working with the person you’re planning to hire. And having a checklist of red flags handy when you meet, will save you time, energy and regret. This is part of learning how to find the right talent for your startup.
Above all do not compromise. Hiring for startups is always a wanted yesterday scenario, but remember like attracts like, so if you get the first 10 wrong the next 100 will tank. Also, funding usually goes to the companies that can hire well. A well-implemented hiring strategy for startups can determine not just the immediate but also the future success of the venture.