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News  19, Mar 2013

Taking the right people on the startup journey – Startup Hiring

Always be hiring

TradeGecko’s biggest bottleneck to date is its hiring.

…and we don’t expect this to change.

Startup hiring is one of the biggest challenges any growing business faces. Finding the right people to join your company at the right time can make all the difference with growth.

Defining Expectations and Hiring Criteria

One thing we’ve prioritised is the setting of clear expectations and criteria on evaluating candidates. At TradeGecko we have two primary criteria; the beer test (would you want to get a beer with that person) and secondly, raw brain-power as an individual. It is extremely important that you can spend five minutes with the person and say. She Gets. Stuff. Done.

We’ve also used Paul English of Kayak.com fame hiring criteria:

  1. Bandwidth. I’m a snob for intelligence. I like to surround myself with people who are much smarter and faster than me. People who can juggle ten things at once, and handle curve balls. This is a requirement in an entrepreneurial activity, as by definition you are doing something new, so you have to learn (from your customers) while you are building.
  2. Attitude. I like people who have fire in their belly, who are outwardly competitive, and who are very goal / results driven. I like people who are fun and who laugh a lot, including at themselves. I like people who are so confident in their skills that they are openly and instantly humble about things they are not good at. I like people who delight in seeing others perform, and who delight in blowing away customers with awesome products and services. I like people who are open and honest.
  3. Experience. I want people who have been successful at something– getting stuff done. They don’t need to have done what I’m hiring them for, but they need to bring some new success experience to the team. (I once hired a guy who had an olympic medal in rowing; I thought that was just the coolest thing; I did not need him to row, but I knew if he could get an olympic medal, it said a lot about his determination etc.)
  4. Lack of dysfunctional behavior. I will not tolerate anyone who hurts the team. I don’t care how awesome they are. If they are a jerk, work will not be fun (for me or my team mates) and that is not acceptable. We all have insecurities and much dysfunctional behavior is bad responses to such.

Hiring, Paul English

When to hire for a role at a startup.

The way we’re looking at hiring (outside of scaling our product team) is by evaluating specific role’s of work that are being sub-optimally performed by a current team member. The sub-optimal performance could be for multiple reasons; a lack of skills, experience or just the lack of hours in the day to give the work role the focus it deserves. Then chunking off these roles and finding someone to focus entirely on this one role.

“Extreme Focus (driven by Peter):  Peter required that everyone be tasked with exactly one priority.  He would refuse to discuss virtually anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative.  Even our annual review forms in 2001 required each employee to identify their single most valuable contribution to the company.”

- Keith Rabois, What strong beliefs on culture for entrepreneurialism did Peter / Max / David have at PayPal?

The first role that has received this treatment at TradeGecko was content generation – as a B2B SaaS company we are placing a lot of value on the quality and eventually the quantity of content that we’re providing to the community.

Where to find new team members for startups

Startups are wily creatures, and there definitely seems to be a lot of people in-love with the idea of working at a startup, but who don’t understand just how much work being a core member of a new company really is – there doesn’t seem to be a solution to this problem – at-least not one that I can see, the general consenus here is evaluate as best as you can and be willing to hire and fire fast.

At this point the staff we’ve hired have come from two channels; inbound and existing relationships. We’ve attempted to do outreach hiring with advertising, however the quality of leads for positions hasn’t justified the effort. More importantly people who are coming from existing relationships and networks are more likely to understand the startup lifestyle. As an example – we were part of the JFDI incubator , and we’ve used this the opportunity to recruit from the talent pool of the teams that haven’t quite made it.

We’re still working out how to hire.

We’re going to continually get it wrong and so will you. There will be times when you have to let people go, move people around, but growth requires human capital.

We’ve identified hiring as our biggest bottleneck and personally I’ve set hiring this as one of my big priorities - and I’m going to start focusing a lot of resource at making sure it doesn’t restrain our growth.

“A CEO does only three things. Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company. Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.”

What a CEO doesFred Wilson

But we’re still figuring it out and we’d love any feedback, opinions or suggestions on how we could improve.

Please let us know in the comments below.

p.s We’re doing a series on talent, recruiting, hiring in Singapore, scouting vs training talent etc., so expect more to come on this topic.

Learn more:

TradeGecko is hiring! Email me at cameron@tradegecko.com if you want to come work for an awesome Singapore based, venture-funded, revenue generating, B2B SaaS startup building beautiful online inventory management software (holy buzzword usage batman).

This post was first published on TradeGecko’s blog as Taking the right people on the startup journey – Startup Hiring.

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