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Hiring staff with the right stuff

Friday, 25 May 2012 | By Brad Lindenberg

One of the most challenging aspects of a start-up is hiring.


At the end of the day, an organisation comes down to its people and how good they are at what they do. This is especially important in start-ups where employees cannot hide behind a partitioned cubicle.


Every dollar matters and every resource counts, so having the right team is generally the difference between succeeding and failing.


Budgets and forecasts are usually done around financials, however, forecasting your human resources is just as important, especially if you think you’ll be growing quickly.


As a founder I’m always looking for great people, as it’s very important to have an understanding of what I want the company to look like in the future.




I have created an organisational structure of what I’d like the business to become over time, in terms of positions and roles. In the same way as I would forecast revenue and costs, I have forecasted human resources.


I created a high-level organisation chart that projects the future organisational structure of the company. This can be shared with employees so that they understand your vision for the business as well. If you incentivise employees with an introduction payment, they will look for staff as well and become recruiters working for you.


At the beginning of the start-up, most of the work is done by the founders. They do almost everything in the example above, however over time as the business grows, or if you raise funds to fast track your success, you’ll need to put the right people on the right seats ahead of time to accelerate growth and scale.


This diagram is important as it provides some clarity about what the company will look like ahead of time. Every time I meet with someone in business, I ask myself whether they would be the right fit for someone on my chart in terms of culture, skill, etc.


If I like them, I will add their name to the position and start a conversation. I’ll also look to other organisations and try to work out who is behind their excellent work.


If there is a company in the same space as ours, and I like their blog, or their front-end design, or any other aspect of the business, I’ll try to find out who is responsible for this work, and then start a conversation. This is how you get to the doers – and you need doers in start-ups.


These conversations can take weeks or months. However, a leopard never changes theirs spots, so whether they decide to come across today, or in a month or a year, it would usually have been worth the wait.


Furthermore, great people are usually already in stable jobs. If you are hiring someone without a job, that is a bad thing.


When hiring, it is important to be patient. You shouldn’t just hire to get something done.


Hiring should be done with a long-term view. You need to feel excited about every hire, as if you’ve just won over someone awesome who is truly going to make a difference to your business.


You need to put them through tests and understand how they think and work.


Resumes won’t cut it. You have to dig deeper. Give your developers a coding assignment, read their blogs and public feeds; give your community managers something to blog about and some resources to base it on and see what they come up with; put potential support hires on the phone and email for a day and see how they measure up.


Hire slow, fire fast. Be ruthless and cut out underperformers. There is no room for them on the bus.


Once you’ve found the right person, get out of their way and let them do their thing. If you have to over manage them, they are not A players.


The key here is to create a vision for the structure of your company early on – potentially when there are just two or three employees.


What will it look like when there are 20 employees? Tech companies grow quickly, so you should always be on the lookout to fill positions that will need filling in the future.


Above is an example of the organisation chart I’ve created for BuyReply. We’ve filled a few positions, however, the point is that we know what we’d like BuyReply to look like in six months to a year.


This helps manage growth, it helps communicate vision and clarifies direction to investors, and it helps you plan ahead and mitigate the risks of failing from growing too quickly.