Hiring for early stage startups with seed funding is essentially an exercise in getting the best talent from the lowest possible spend. Every dollar should be spent knowing that each hire - both effective and ineffective - will have a profound impact on your growth trajectory. This is arguably the hardest balance to find with the greatest outcome for everyone involved: the founders, the early team, your investors, and your clients.
How do you get started? Referrals, referrals, referrals. We're talking about your networks of friends, colleagues, and peers. They're the lowest cost, highest impact method to hiring.
The problem is that referrals (visible and invisible connections) are too often mis-managed and poorly leveraged to achieve the required results. Keep the following in mind if you aim to successfully leverage your networks:
Everybody Pitches In
Everyone connected to your startup should be involved in referral requests, including the seed investors. You're aiming for maximum reach and exposure, especially on the periphery of your networks where leaps can be made into new talent pools.
Provide details on your startup, the problem you are solving, and specifics of each opportunity. Articulate the impact that each new role can have in shaping your future. Don’t be vague in your messaging outreach. Clearly define what someone stands to gain by joining you.
Weak is Strong
The best employee recommendations come from weak ties rather than strong ties, so spread your referral requests far and wide. Read Strength of Weak Ties by Mark Granovetter for a fundamental understanding of this phenomenon.
Keep at It
Contact your network at least three times on each referral request. Don’t give up after one or two attempts. The key is to be dedicated and consistent in your follow-up.
Betting on People
Early stage investors usually bet on people (i.e. the founding team) rather than ideas because the
only certainty for an early stage startup is unforeseen challenges. It is your team’s capacity to handle these challenges that defines your success trajectory.
The founding team should remember and follow this investment betting thesis and spend significant amounts of time on cultivating a hiring culture. It's tempting to focus solely on your product, your market-fit, and your early clients. Carve out time (20%) to work on building your talent pipeline and your hiring process. Think of it as an investment in your company's future.