Getting your first 10 hires right, first time
Samantha Furley, July 4th 2022

Research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that 80 per cent of employee turnover is down to poor hiring decisions.

Now, imagine if you could reduce employee turnover by 80 per cent, simply by hiring the right people from the very start.

Let’s start with an analogy. You’ve bought a plot of land. You have grand ambitions but, right now, you don’t know whether you’re building a bungalow or a skyscraper. You’ve never built a house before, so you need experts. An architect, surveyor, project manager. Plumbers, plasterers, roofers. People who can help you build a solid foundation upon which to grow and build. But if your mind is on the finish of your taps or the colour of your bathroom tiles, you’re failing to focus on what is important.

The same principle applies to hiring for startups. You need a hiring plan – one which is both short- and long-term. Startup recruitment requires a strategic, systematic approach. Outline your objectives, be realistic about your budget and critically evaluate your internal resources. It’s an ongoing process.

Bad hiring decisions are made because people jump straight in, fail to plan effectively, and don’t stop to question their decisions until it’s too late.

As experienced startup recruiters, here are our top tips on how to get your first startup hires right.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Yes, it’s a cliché. But think of yourself as the building architect, responsible for planning and designing your startup business.

You’ll never perfectly predict exactly the team you need to hire as you scale, but from our experience as talent partner to some great startups and scaleups, creating an organisational chart for the next 18 months is important to help guide you. If you’re exploring startup venture funding, 18 months will often link in to the gap between your seed and Series A round and help you show investors you’ve thought through some of your key people challenges.

When looking at your next hire, put a clear process in place.

An obvious place to start is with a Google search. But is cherry-picking a bullet point list of responsibilities from other job ads going to give you what you need? Probably not. We recommend starting with a blank sheet of paper and making a note of what you need. You might think you need to hire a CTO for your startup, but square pegs don’t fit in round holes. What you might really need is an lead developer someone willing to roll-up their sleeves, be flexible, hands-on and happy to work outside the traditional remit.

It's important not to simply default to hiring full-time permanent employees for your startup. Interim, contract, freelance, interns, fractional CXOs, or part-time – just some of the different ways you can hire the best talent into your startup.

Keep in mind that every single hire in these early days has the potential to fundamentally change your business DNA – so take your time, be thorough and prepare fully.

Treat your employees like you treat your customers

Sir Richard Branson once famously said “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. Regardless of your opinion of Sir Richard, it’s difficult to argue with the sentiment of this statement.

We recommend that you put as much emphasis on marketing your startup to potential employees as you would to prospective customers. The top talent out there isn’t necessarily looking for a new role, so make yourself known to them. Make some noise, work your networks, and use a specialist startup recruiter to attract top startup talent.

When writing a job description, think about the employee. It isn’t all about you. Culturally, working in a startup is distinctly different. This is your advantage! Remember, people choose to work for a startup for a variety of reasons. Maybe they’re itching to be part of something new. Or they’re lost purpose from the corporate grind and want the flexibility, impact and job satisfaction that YOUR startup can offer. Startup hiring is a two-way process; sell them your vision and tell them what you’ll bringing to the table – you need to impress a good-fit prospect just as much as they need to impress you.

Remember, you wouldn’t be a startup entrepreneur if you weren’t energised, creative and independent. Channel these qualities and put yourself firmly in the shoes of a potential employee when designing your startup roles.

Recruitment first, retention second

We’ve outlined the importance of having a plan and process, as well as a marketing mindset when hiring for your startup. But it’s employee retention that really matters.

Enter ‘how can I retain my employees’ into Google and you’ll get over 92 million results. It’s the million-dollar question. Recruiting for any business can be time consuming, expensive and disruptive; recruiting for a startup in the early stages, especially so.

But whilst there is no magic formula to retaining staff, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk.

From your very first hire, have a retention plan in place. Get connected to the employees in your business. Seek feedback through pulse surveys, 1-2-1s and 360 feedback to understand what motivates your employees to work for a startup – and YOUR startup in particular.

Focusing on employee engagement will ensure that every member of staff understands exactly how their role contributes to the wider goals of your organisation. So celebrate wins, invite two-way feedback, encourage continual improvement and view failure as a positive learning opportunity. By establishing a culture that embodies these qualities, you’ll be taking a huge step towards creating a creative and cohesive environment that seeks to retain – rather than just recruit – people in your organisation.

A final thought on hiring for startups…

After funding, the biggest barrier to startup growth is hiring the best startup talent – and specifically, not having the right people, in the right roles, at the right time. Every hire will be a risk. This is unavoidable.

But effective planning and designing of roles, will help you make smart, considered and strategic hiring decisions for your startup – and this is how you can significantly de-risk your hiring.

As startup recruitment experts and experienced tech recruiters, we regularly run events to help educate founders. If you want to explore more about getting the first 10 hires right for your startup, join our next free virtual session on Wednesday July 27th. Register here.

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