When people start offering hiring advice or social media tips, I typically cringe. What comes next is inevitably a flood of jargon completely devoid of actionable advice. In the last 3 months, I’ve spent a good deal of time on these subjects. I’ve spoken to everybody from CEOs who have sold their companies billions to hiring managers of failed companies. I’ve learned a lot and have tried to implement the same practices into my own hiring.
Hiring is difficult at any size company. Though at a startup it’s even more difficult and more impactful. Your first hire will increase your company size by 33% if you’re a 3-person founder team. Large companies don’t have to worry turnover as much, but selecting the wrong individual can cripple a small company. At the very least, it can stunt its growth trajectory.
Distilling the advice of all the amazing mentors and contacts we’ve had, here are five pieces of advice that have helped us in hiring.
1. Wait for the right person
When your company is growing quickly, it may seem impossible to wait to fill certain positions. For us, that role was a City Manager. We needed somebody to manage the day to day business operations. We were losing out on thousands of dollars of long term value every day we didn’t hire somebody. We had tons of applicants, and we did dozens of interviews. Unfortunately, we didn’t fall in love with any of the candidates. They were awesome people, but nobody fit the role precisely how we wanted.
Our resolve began to weaken as we lost potential revenue every day. We almost slipped up and offered the position to somebody who was “solid.” But we held out. Because after all, we’re trying to build a billion dollar business. We need people who kick ass.
Still, it was tough not to give in. Thank god we didn’t, though. After a few weeks, we met Alex (who wasn’t even interviewing for that position.) He kicked butt, and we now have the exact person we want for our team. Remember: it’s going to be hard to hold out for the best. But if you don’t have the best people on the bus, you will fail. Stay strong, and demand nothing less than the right person.
2. Culture Fit
It’s hip today to talk about your company culture and values. But when your company is smaller than 10 people, it is much harder to define. Honestly, we spent more time than we should have contemplating our values, which “type” of person we wanted on board, and who we couldn’t work with.
But what happened was more simple. We interviewed candidates we really liked, for the most part. If anybody had an issues with a candidate, we didn’t hire them. When you’re a small team, and you can interview on a personal level like that, to figure out a “culture fit,” ask yourself this: If you sat next to this person for 80 hours a week, could you do it without jamming a pencil in your eye? If that person was in working on Sunday, and you had the day off, would you want to go in and help them?
If you answered ‘yes,’ then you have a culture fit. If not, keep looking.
3. Define What You Want
While interviewing, I ran across a peculiar problem. Instead of a lack of talent, our candidate pool was filled with individuals with unique skill sets that could be applicable to our business in one way or another. We spoke to people who ran call centers, opened up international relationships, ran crews of low income individuals, wrote professionally, and owned lawn care companies.
It’s too easy to become intrigued when you run into a valuable, yet unexpected, skill. That’s why it’s so important to define what you absolutely need.
For us, it was simple. Here’s what our ideal City Manager looks like:
They write well. Since content creation is a huge drive for our business, they need to execute our content creation over the winter.
They communicate effectively with lawn care companies and contractors.
They are an effective leader. The ability to manage people is crucial.
They are capable of making their own decisions and trusting their instincts.
They are sharp and want to constantly improve our processes. They learn quickly.
Most candidates didn’t hit these required points, but we still debated hiring them because of some shiny new extra feature. If your core requirements aren’t satisfied, the candidate won’t work out.
4. The Sliding Scale
I rarely hear people talk about compensation in hiring. This, however, is important. After choosing to offer somebody the job, how exactly do you figure out what to pay them? How do you split the salary and equity? After all, startups are cash strapped.
The best strategy I’ve heard is to create a sliding scale. Basically, figure out the highest amount of salary you are willing to give. Next, figure out the highest amount of equity. With these two numbers, you have the top and bottom of your sliding scale. Theoretically, you’re comfortable with all the data points in between.
People often make the mistake of assuming they know what the new hire wants. The fact is some people are more worried about salary, while some find larger equity packages enticing. By offering a sliding scale, you let your future employee pick their desired combination. They’ll be happier, and as long as you value the equity properly, the end result is the same for you.
5. IP Assignment
First time CEOs often make the crucial mistake of ignoring intellectual property (IP) agreements. Basically, without the proper agreements, your company might not own the rights to things your employees create while working with you. You can see where this would be problematic. In the agreement, allow the individual to claim any IP/patents they already own. Other than that, it’s in your best interest to have them sign over their past IP. That way, somebody can’t claim they created the concept prior to working with you.
Hiring is hard. It’s also different for every company. But if you apply these five points to your own standards and interests, you’ll be well on your way to filling your company with the best possible people. You’ll have a kick butt team who will likely become your best friends. Now, get out there and scale that business!
Steven Corcoran is the 22-year-old CEO of LawnStarter, a TechStars Company. He is also a college dropout, self taught coder, once upon a time bi-phasic sleeper, and a huge fan of startups.
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