Hacking startup hiring — do’s and don’ts

Have you ever been so disappointed with people that you wanted to replace them with bots? If you are bootstrapping a startup, I’m pretty sure, you have or will be. I have been there, done that. My first 3 hiring was so frustrating, we actually built framework, bots, habit to work 12–14 hours a day, so that we don’t need to hire people or deal with them. It was a good hustle and eventually we learnt so much but it was nowhere close to being scalable.

However, with some help and contemplation, I figured out the problems with our hiring. We were hiring the wrong people through wrong channel and our on boarding process were terrible. So it was a mess.

Mistake #1: Hiring from own network

The first mistake we did was hiring from our own network. A good friend doesn’t mean a good employee. We thought we needed a good engineer but what we mostly needed in our small startup is a good team player. So we reached out to an engineer from our network that had experience and good academic background. In a few weeks, we realized, it is a total disaster. He was a shitty team player and never believed in our company’s mission.

Mistake #2: Hiring remote employee

Funny thing, we did this mistake twice by not understanding it is the ultimate productivity killer for a startup. The first few employees of a startup are actually the 2nd tier entrepreneur of that company. They are the people who would set the foundation of that company’s culture. A remote hiring may get some of your tasks done but it is not possible to get them fully integrated with your journey.

Mistake #3: Hiring mediocre people

It is normal that, first 3 years of any startup will be unhealthy and unorganized. You need the best people to stay on top of things during this period. It is a race between team, runway period and thousands if not millions obstacles. In this particular situation, mediocrity is definitely a sin. Mediocre people hardly find balance between skill and ego and lacks in professionalism. You need people who are just like you — self-driven, data oriented, open to unlearn, focused and hustler. It doesn’t only mean, you have to hire the top professional with 10–12 years of experience, it also means hiring the fresher who has the comparative advantage of not having the need of unlearning.

Mistake #4: Hiring unambitious people

I recently read a medium post, which explains why “Hope” is overrated where “Desire” is what drives us to push our limit and motivates us to do things that don’t scale. This makes a lot of sense. During our first few hiring, we didn’t bother to take this quality as a defining factor and we learnt our lesson. Now we only hire people who are ambitious enough to chase their goal and invest in improving themselves everyday.

Mistake #5: Skipping the necessary onboarding period

After a mentoring session from Ignition Program, it was clear to us, we have major flaw in our employee onboarding process. We were rushing into it, didn’t have a well-designed routine. Right now, we have a weeklong welcoming session for every new group of recruits and a two month long training and onboarding program. This may sound like a lot of work but it is worth adopting, helps the new recruits be on the same page as well as builds a sense of belonging.

Hacking the startup hiring

One of our mentors Jean-Xtophe Ordonneau once told us, our cognitive processing is not different at all than our ancestors of hunter-gatherer societies. A startup should be considered as a herd where members are co-dependent. So when we re-imagined our hiring process from scratch, we wanted to find the people who do we want to work with. Not the people who will work for us.

Step #1: Persona building

The first thing we did is, we wanted to be sure what type of people we want to work with. We are going to spend 40 hours every week in the same office. So we needed to make sure, we have mutual qualities to like each others. We discussed, debated and decided on the qualities we want to have in our future colleagues.

Step #2: Announcement

The second step was to get the words out. We published our hiring notice to both traditional channels and social media. We wanted to get maximum exposer. We received 1200+ applications in next 30 days. That was quite an overwhelming response.

Step #3: Vetting

We wanted to hire no more than 4 engineers. So statistically we had a very high probability of finding our perfect candidates. We read and examined every single application/resume and made a short list of candidates who we thought eligible for secondary filtering. We shortlisted around 100 candidates and send them a programming problem. We asked them to solve and send back the answer to our email. We got reply from around 40 candidates.

Step #4: Interview

Before we spend our time, we wanted to make sure they have enough technical skill to fulfil our skill requirement. So out of that 40 reply, we checked the codes and decided to meet around 15 people. We invited them over a period of week to have chat with, talk about their career vision, explaining our startup, what we do etc.

Step #5: Hiring and onboarding

We spent around 50 days in hiring 4 engineers and next 60 days in onboarding and training. We hired total freshers with zero work experience in related fields and today they are the rock stars of our startup. We spend zero time in managing them, they innovate and suggests features for our product and occasionally breaks the server during experiments :D

Call to action

We are going to get new team members on boarded very soon. If you want to join a SaaS startup based in Dhaka or Paris and have just enough ego to survive a bootstrapped startup culture, feel free to send me your resume at muntasir@hektortech.com

Thanks for reading the article. Have a nice day.