Startup Hiring

Startup Hiring 101: A Founder’s Guide. Part 3 - Finding & reaching out to great candidates

Steve Bartel

Steve Bartel

CEO and Co-Founder

Posted on

January 17, 2024

As an early-stage startup, the hardest part of recruiting is finding the right talent and getting them to engage and eventually interview. This is where you’ll spend most of your time during the hiring process.

The top of the funnel is arguably the most important part of startup hiring, but it can be low ROI if you spend time and energy on the wrong things. Unfortunately, this is probably the part of the funnel you have the least experience with (e.g., compared to interviewing), and approaches that work for large companies don’t tend to work well for small startups.

We’ve outlined specific strategies to find and engage with talent at the top of the funnel. Click into each guide for step-by-step instructions and example templates

2a. Sourcing 1st-degree connections

Sourcing and recruiting from your network is going to be the highest ROI way to hire your early team, especially engineers. Every co-founder should be spending time on this process regardless of their role.

2b. Referrals

Hiring is a team sport. If you’ve hired a few founding team members, leveraging their referrals can be a great way to expand your company’s network. You can also get referrals from friends, VCs, and advisors. The key is to put good processes in place to make it as easy (and low-pressure) as possible.

2c. Sourcing 2nd-degree connections

Usually, sourcing out-of-network talent is low ROI, but one technique works well, which we call the “connector node.” Essentially, we’ll turn second-degree connections into first-degree connections leveraging the concept of “social proof.” It’s also pretty scalable.

2d. Hiring marketplaces (e.g., Triplebyte)

Hiring marketplaces like Triplebyte can be a good source of high-quality candidates. Especially if you have the budget. The key is to focus on what makes your opportunity unique and do great qualification early on to filter out candidates that never would have joined your startup in the first place.

2e. Agencies

Recruiting agencies are mixed ROI as a small startup. Agencies cost a lot (~20-30% of first-year salary), incentives can be misaligned, and the quality varies dramatically. Agencies can work if you’re hiring for a niche role where you have less experience and no network. Overall, leverage agencies sparingly, and when you do, make sure they reference well.

2f. Other sources of candidates

Unfortunately, most other strategies (inbound & career site, campus, meetups & industry events) that work for larger companies will be lower ROI. You should spend your time on higher ROI strategies, especially your network, except in rare cases.

2g. Gem’s founding team and how we found them

Read the story behind Gem's founding team and where we found each founding team member.

Startup Source of Hire Tier List Mashup

As an avid gamer growing up, I would always look up Tier Lists for my favorite video games. In video games, Tier Lists are a fun way to rank and visualize the viability of characters, items, etc.

Just for fun, here’s how I would rank each Source of Hire using a Video Game Tier List format.

  • S-Tier = Best. Every founder should spend lots of time here.

  • A-Tier = Solid. Spend time here as soon as you’re getting diminishing returns on S-Tier.

  • B-Tier = Situational. Use sparingly and only in certain situations.

  • C-Tier = Poor. Almost always a waste of time with a few exceptions for a few companies.

Startup Source of Hire Tier List Mashup

Up Next

In our next installment, we’ll discuss how your own personal network is often the best way to recruit and hire the best talent (as a small startup), and why that’s where you should start first.

In the meantime…


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