Editor’s note: Hong Quan is a recruiter at Quantum Startups, which connects people with startups in Silicon Valley. He is also the founder of Prong Motors and designed a unique three-wheeled vehicle. He is also a Mentor-in-Residence at 500 Startups and for the Thiel Foundation’s 20 Under 20 Fellowship.
Recruiters suck! On this we can all agree. You don’t need to set up a honeypot to know the majority are just lurking LinkedIn and spamming software engineers for their next lottery ticket. Most people think recruiting is about “hiring talent”, but founders should be actually building a cult.
Now that you’ve raised some money – Congrats! – the first thing your new bosses will ask is that you “grow the team”. We’ve got the future to build! And it’s gonna require a lot of bodies. And that’s why you’ll fail.
Recruiting isn’t about filing seats. By the time most founders think about recruiting – approximately 3-6 months after funding and not being able to hire anyone – it’s too late. You need to create a solid recruiting process that reflects your unique personality and company culture, and one that’s scalable and repeatable. Oh, you’ve already been using external recruiters? Or you’ve got someone doing recruiting but not delivering results. Now you have to call in a specialist to fix everything wrong with your recruiting process, do what I call ‘catch-up-recruiting’ and that’s a really rough road. I’ve done it. And it’ll cost you more (time and money) for me to clean up someone else’s mess.
So how should you think about recruiting? Well let’s go back in time…
Stages Of Growth
1) 0 to 2 – You’ve got an idea and you’ve got a partner (or two). Most startups end up in divorce. Marry well. The core/founding team is your foundation and every subsequent hire will reflect this. This is why VCs like to fund Founders from Stanford, Harvard or MIT.
2) 2 to 20 – Building the base, hire all your friends! Search your natural network until it’s tapped out. Then go outside your comfort zone.
3) 20 to 100+ – Create the recruiting machine, keep it running, feed the beast. Don’t let HR take over. No, it’s not the same thing as recruiting.
You Got Recruiting Problems
And I feel bad for you son. I got 99 engineers and you all want one. “Just get us one.” That’s what the emails all say. We just need one Google Engineer, one Facebook Hacker, one ex-YC Founder who almost made it and is now dead broke. If you think about recruiting one hire at a time, you’ll never build a proper team. There are some common pitfalls that Founders fall into, and they are:
1) Hiring too slow. Talent > Capital. VCs breathing down your neck. I’ve never met a startup that’s hiring “on plan”. Even the most popular startups with awesome teams and unlimited press mentions have trouble recruiting quickly while maintaining the highest quality that made them the hot startup in the first place.
2) Hiring too fast. Scaling before you’re ready. More engineers != more code shipped. Founders who brag about the size of their team are doing it wrong. More people means more burn, which requires more money, which usually means fundraising, which puts you on the hook for more hiring. Having 5 engineers in the earliest stage pre-funding doesn’t actually mean you’ll code 5x as fast, or ship product that’s 5x better. Don’t grow before you’re ready, but be ready to grow at all times.
3) Hiring poorly. This will be the death of your startup, guaranteed.
Save Us From Ourselves
So what do we do now? No one’s doing recruiting right. If you’re not a big company, why are you using big company recruiting? Pipeline, filters, resumes, reviews, phone screens, code challenges and interviews. Volume doesn’t naturally bring quality. Once HR is involved your startup is now a “company” for better or for worse. “But Google hires the best engineers!”, you’ll protest. Okay, but does your startup do *anything else* exactly like Google?
1) Always Be Recruiting. It’s Job #1 for Founders. People join your startup because of you, not because of salary, funding, equity or perks.
2) Recruiting is too important to be left to Recruiters. How many recruiters do you need? Well how many employees do you have? It’s everyone’s job to grow the company. Give them the tools and responsibility to do so.
3) Build strong teams. Strong teams get stronger over time, weak teams get weaker.
Retention is half the battle in this current “war for talent”. Even your friends and Co-Founders will leave you. Make sure you’re okay with that. Better yet, plan for it.