Hiring talent into startups

It is hard to hire good talent in India these days – no matter which company. And if you are a startup, the problem only gets compounded.

While things are changing of late, I feel it is partly cultural and partly lack of awareness of startup advantages. I even came across few folks, who after going through complete recruitment process backed out in the last minute because they (and their parents) felt that their marriage prospects would be affected because of “unknown” company :-)

There is ton of material on internet w.r.t startups. Based on my experience, few things I found that helps great deal in attracting smart geeks and good talent into startups:

Motivation & Vision. It is important to communicate this to the prospective candidate- why did you start this company and where do you see this would go in the future.

Give them examples of world changing startups and how they started. If your founding team members have past startup experience, have them talk about it. Recently, I came across the following quote from Alexander Tamas (of DST):

“The urge to built something meaningful that changes the world is a life time chance.”

Do you think of your company the same way ? If you don’t, don’t complain and stop right here.

Passion. Not only the candidates need this, but he/she should feel this in the company – in every employee out there already. So, think about how you are going to make candidate feel/perceive this in your company ?  There are no silver bullets here – if you (and your founding team) have this, it will ooze out in every thing that you do.

Sense of ownership.  This is one attribute that every single individual is bound to mention, if he/she ever worked for a startup. No big company is going to match what a startup can offer. Take full advantage of this and talk about at length to candidates. If you already have some team members, have each one of them (esp the junior ones if you are hiring into a junior position) talk to the candidates about the work they do and how they feel about it

– The Team. No smart geek wants to work in isolation. Developers like to hang out and work with other developers who are smarter than them. Having a brainstorming sessions on challenging problems with people they respect and lookup to – is like an extra dose of dopamine. They don’t mind getting addicted to this form of drug. The only question is do you have sufficient quantities of this drug (in other words, can your team produce this drug) ?  Expose the candidate to just a smell of this – he would be sold in no time.

Trust. This is ultra critical if you want your employees stick to the company, especially in startup companies. But unlike the other factors, this comes into play only after the candidate joins the company. Like a customer always trusts a company that is transparent and pro-active, employees trust their company if they find it transparent and company trusts them.

I am no expert in this matter, you will find plenty of stuff on this topic on the web. Only one key advise though: If you promise your employees something (be it their promotion, pay hike, change of work/roles & responsibilities, company future/next steps etc), please donot ever go back on your word. Put in extra-ordinary amount of effort, if required, to fulfill your promise. If you don’t, employees are gonna get hurt. Once they get hurt, they are gonna loose trust.  You may go out victorious by just announcing the failure to keep promise as some change in company policy etc. You think that meeting went well – but the effects of employees loosing trust is like a “slow release drug” – unless you are an expert in human psychology/behaviour, you are not gonna be able to correlate these negative effects with specific incidents.

But if you must go back on your word, there are ways to do that without lot of negative impact. Own it up!!. Just come clean with the employees, be transparent, explain as to why the promise couldn’t be kept, explain to them where you goofed up. They understand that  end of the day you are human and forgive you.  You may even see them even more committed if they believe you.

In short, just treat them as family – you donot have to take up any extra steps and your actions will be natural.

Comments ?

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3 thoughts on “Hiring talent into startups

  1. nice post. captures the key points. Adding to the above.. you have estabished a family env. built a team 4 yrs go by and the difficult part is balancing your loyality to the family you built and the business you are trying to run.

    Indian startups unlike their US counterparts are long haul min. 5 yrs as against a 2 to 4 year cycle in US this adds more challenges

    • Thanks for the comments srini. Agree about the balance. And as a result not every decision that you take may be favorable to employees. This is where the trust and transparency plays big part.

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