Rock Your Venture

Recruitment is probably the biggest challenge any startup has to face.

Indeed, in a startup, everything needs to be built from scratch and there is a lot to do. You need the best people, the most passionate and hard working, but also resilient, positive and pushy.

At the same time, you have limited financial ressources so you cannot always offer competitive packages, and you don’t have the brand name of a Google or a Facebook.

This equation makes it really hard to find the profiles you want and to convince them to join you long-term.

I have experienced this challenge many times through my startup years. Here are some tips to help you recruit and retain the best, which is fundamental to the success of your startup.

What you want to highlight to attract the best profiles

First, it is important to understand why applicants choose to join a startup rather than a corporate company, and to adapt your pitch accordingly:

  • Because they want to learn working closely with top people: startups have less hierarchy which means more access to top management, especially in the early stage. Therefore, it is important to highlight the quality of your team during the interview process: you have yourself a great experience and are willing to mentor your new employees. As an example, when Rocket Internet sent my CV to SpaceWays, an on-demand storage startup they just launched, I was pretty sure I would pass on this opportunity as I was not interested in this industry. I still jumped on a call with the 2 global co-founders and their impressive careers alongside the great “fit” we had convinced me that working with them would bring me a lot. Without the top team they presented me, starting with them, I would have probably not joined the venture, and this is still my number one criteria when I consider a startup (thanks to Rob and Martin for having been amazing mentors so far :))
  • Because they want to have more responsibilities than in the corporate world: many people decide to join a startup because they want to learn on the ground doing a variety of tasks, in dynamic and fast paced environments. Show them they will have great responsibilities straight away and more ownership on their topic than anywhere else, with ability to make it happen very fast without going through a long decision process like in big corporates. You will provide mentoring, but ultimately it is up to any individual in the startup to make it happen. The right profiles should find this very exciting
  • Because they want more adventure in their life: during my first job at Rocket Internet, I worked in Berlin, London, Paris, Sydney and Toronto, setting up storage, food delivery and sport businesses within 1,5 years. This is a little bit of a stereotype but people who join startups often want more adventure and passion than the classic 9–5 corporate job. This doesn’t necessarily require travelling from one end of the world to the other: show them they will have diversity in their work, the opportunity to grow and move into to other positions, and the ability to try out different teams. When I arrived at Stuart two years ago, I joined the London Operations team. But after a year, I wanted to explore the clients strategy side and moved to Key Account Management. Similarly, one of my colleagues went from the Operations to the Product team.
  • Last but not least, they might want to have a good package in terms of equity, which compensates for the lower salaries and can make them rich if they join the right place 😉 Granted the right part of ownership in the company to your top hires is a great incentive to make them over perform, and also to show that you consider them as key stakeholders and not just “employees”.

How to retain the best people

Recruiting the right people is already an achievement on its own. But it is a waste of time, effort and money if these people churn and leave the company early on. Additionally, this reflects poorly on your company — high employee turnover is never a great sign. For this to happen,

  • don’t lie: what you promised during the recruitment process (package, work environment, etc) needs to happen, or if not there should be a valid reason
  • recognise success and be grateful: nothing worse than a startup where everyone feels like they’re working “for” the founders who don’t even know who they are. Make sure everyone is recognized the right way by their managers for their contribution to the overall success. At Stuart for instance, we have a monthly global call where we celebrate individual achievements, from the intern to the CTO. Without having to formalise it that way, it can be as easy as a “thank you very much, your work was awesome!” on the way or in an email
  • set up a nice team working environment with positive vibes: make sure everyone is talking to each other and know what the other teams are doing. Part of this is about setting up a good on boarding so any new comers will be able to have a 1:1 sit-down with people of the other teams to go through what they’re doing. It is also about setting up the right communication channels between the different teams so the information flows smoothly on a regular basis: weekly team meetings, etc.
  • working hard is fine, but play hard as well: make sure everyone has fun when being at work — employees who enjoy their work are twice as committed and productive, and don’t want to leave 🙂
  • listen, listen, listen: never enough “listen” as an advise to retain people — listen to your employees! Take the time to sit and go through any concern. Employees feeling like they have no one to whom they can talk about their concerns will start looking elsewhere.

How to build a rock star team

When it comes to building the best startup team, it’s not about quantity, but about quality and structure.

Don’t recruit too many people too fast. You might be tempted to do so in order to “go faster” in execution. But having to handle a large group of people, recruited very fast, will end up being harder than working with a couple of reliable and strong people.

A top intern with a huge appetite to learn and who possesses a “hustler” mindset can achieve more than 2 full-time people, and be rewarded by a full-time position and an increased level of responsibility. This happened to me at my first Rocket Internet venture: I went from Marketing intern to Global Expansion Manager within 3 months.

This is in line with what I suggested above as a retention channel — recognize success and take action to show your employees you care about them! Don’t recruit someone from outside if you can promote a team member to another position with more seniority and responsibilities in stake.

Structure the team carefully. You can often think that in a startup environment, everyone will have to do a variety of tasks way beyond one job posting. However, there should be a main focus as well as ownership and responsibility over it, otherwise two people will work on the same topic or someone will end up doing bits here and there without really contributing or learning anything.

You should have a clear distinction between the Sales team, Operations, Account Management, Customer Support, etc. This doesn’t mean that the teams don’t talk to each other — you should enable anyone to suggest improvements in all the teams and of course work collaboratively. But having a clear team structure gives ownership and clarity.

Focus on the right things to attract top people and build a great and well structured team. Culture and coherence of this team will matter a lot from the very beginning of your startup journey.

Originally published on Medium

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