Three Key Hiring Lessons for Growing Startups


Recently, my startup Speek closed our Series A funding round. It was a lot of hard work, and I am incredibly proud of our team for making it through with our sanity (mostly) intact.

But now it’s time to add to that team. We’ll be leveraging our Series A capital to bring two or three new people on board every month. This means that my thoughts have returned to hiring, and I must say, I feel a lot better about the prospect than I used to.

When we first started building our company, I was relatively new to the hiring process, and it was daunting. This time, however, I feel a little more seasoned, and am actually looking forward to putting what we learned a couple of years ago into practice. Here are some tips about hiring that we learned along the way.

Clearly Define Your Goals

What are you looking to get out of each new hire? Before getting started building a pipeline of qualified candidates, write down some traits that you are looking for. This also gives you an opportunity to reflect upon your company culture (both where it is today and what you would like it to be going forward). Each new hire will have an impact on this culture, so you want to think hard about what you want that impact to be.

Make Sure Diversity Is a Priority

Diversity is an active good in and of itself. It will lend resiliency to your company, limit groupthink and help contribute different perspectives every step of the way. This is not touchy-feely; this is Darwinian. Hiring a diverse team will give your startup a little evolutionary edge known as “hybrid vigor.”

Know Where to Look

When we started building Speek, we wasted a lot of time posting to job boards and trying to leverage our social networks. This was almost entirely unhelpful. Instead, here are some places where we did find great talent:

  • AngelList. AngelList’s “Recruiting” feature allows you to filter users by status, role, location and keywords. I met the highest caliber of talent here and highly recommend it.
  • LinkedIn Recruiter Lite. This is actually the successor to the service we used (LinkedIn Executive). For $99/month, you can reach anyone on LinkedIn (not just in your extended network). You also get additional search parameters, as well as 25 InMail credits a month to reach out to hot prospects.
  • Events and meetups. Getting out into the world and actually, you know, meeting people, is still a great way to find great hires. We found a couple of good developers this way.

I wish we had known all of the above before we began our initial hiring process, but I’m definitely glad we know now.

What would you add to this list?

Danny Boice is the Co-Founder & President of Speek.  Speek lets users do conference calls with a simple link ( rather than using phone numbers and PINs.  Danny attended Harvard, is a Forbes columnist, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown and was recently named a Tech Titan by Washingtonian Magazine. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice or LinkedIn here

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

8 Qualities to Look for in Your Newest Team Member


Question: As an employer, what ONE quality do you look for in every team member you hire and why?

Work Ethic

“You can be the smartest and most technically gifted candidate that I’ve ever met, but if I can’t detect that you’ll do whatever it takes to succeed in your job and help drive the organization’s growth, I probably won’t take a chance on you. Self-starters with indisputably strong work ethics are almost always a safe investment.”

Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work


“Intrinsic motivation is key. You can see this materialize on a resume in the form of side projects and challenging hobbies. Things like this indicate that the applicant prefers to spend her time deeply engaged in challenging activities.”

Robert J Moore, RJMetrics

A Chip on Their Shoulder

“Finding that daily motivation to keep driving forward can be a challenge. That’s why I always like to find what is driving a potential team member — the “chip on their shoulder” is the way I describe it. I look for employees who are internally driven and have something they are pushing toward. I want to know what motivates them — and help them channel that drive.”

Eric Koester, DCI

A Willingness to Get Personal

“I like to get to know the person we’ll be spending hours of time with, including what motivates her, how she spends her time outside of work and what her priorities in life are. I ask questions about hobbies, family and favorites in interviews to get to know them. “

Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia


“We hire based on an individual’s ability to both give and receive love. It sounds hippie-dippy, but in reality, individuals who can approach loving and being loved by our family are also individuals who are self-actualized, ambitious, addicted to growing and willing and able to learn. They also love to matter, which translates to doing an exceptional job. “

Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

A Desire to Learn

“A team member’s desire to learn fuels collaboration and motivates each member to become better in his craft. At some point, everyone gets to be the teacher and the student. This chemistry sparks great conversations, and constant sharing of knowledge builds stronger, closer teams that trust each other.”

Bobby Emamian, Prolific Interactive


“We require everyone on our team (marketing, engineering, design) to do customer support, which requires everyone to have empathy. Being able to relate to our customers on a personal level makes it easy to make the right choices when doing product development or marketing.”

Wade Foster, Zapier


“Passion is what I look for in every single person I hire. It’s very important that my team members are passionate about what they do and can transfer that energy into their work. Hiring a person who is passionate means the candidate will go above and beyond expectations and truly want to help Come Recommended be the best agency it can possibly be. Skills can be taught but passion cannot!”

Heather Huhman, Come Recommended

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

3 Simple Ways to Recruit the Best Startup Talent


Free beer & fast WiFi: WeWork to open co-working space in Seattle

Adding to your startup’s staff represents a major challenge for many small business owners. While there’s no arguing that bringing on rock star employees can help advance your business objectives faster than bottom-of-the-barrel applicants, you may not have the leverage of high salaries, exorbitant benefits and other perks to offer these top players.

rsz_incontentad2So how can you overcome these challenges in order to secure the best talent for your startup?  Consider the following approaches:

Understand What Your Startup Offers

Startup life represents a distinctively different culture than is found within traditional corporations which, for many employees, is actually a perk. According to Rich Sloan, the co-founder of Startup Nation:

“People get involved in a startup for three reasons. One, they like creating; being part of something new. Two, they want to participate in the upside. Three, they want to live a meaningful life, and the closer you are to the success or failure of a business, the more meaning and purpose you feel.”

Knowing that people are seeking out opportunities like the one you have to offer may make it easier to connect with the right people. For example, knowing that employees want to be a part of something “bigger” could make it easier to identify prospective candidates who are experienced, but burnt out of traditional corporate life. You could also use the desire to participate in a startup’s upside. Find recent college grads who are skilled, but not yet tied down to need salaries that support families.

Once you do start looking for new employees, remember that the best people to advertise your company are your existing staff members. Providing a monetary incentive for employees who refer successful candidates can be a good way to quickly find talented people who will fit well in your organization.

Offer Flexible Work Arrangements in Exchange for a Lower Salary

Just because you can’t offer much in the way of compensation to new hires doesn’t mean that you have nothing to bring to the table. In fact, as a growing company, you can provide one major selling point that most corporations can’t – remote work arrangements.

2011 study of 3,000 current and recent college students conducted by telecommunications giant Cisco found that two of every five students surveyed said that’d accept lower-paying jobs that came with more flexibility in terms of device choice, social media access and mobility – compared to higher-paying jobs with less flexibility.

Today’s workers are more conscious than ever of their work-life balance, making them especially attracted to jobs that give them the necessary flexibility to run errands, balance child care and take care of other personal business as needed, on their own schedules. As long as you put the necessary precautions in place to ensure that the work gets done, startups are in an ideal place to offer this highly-sought-after perk to high-performing employees.

Provide Other Intangible Benefits

Along these same lines, for most people, work isn’t just about being paid to perform a set of tasks. There are plenty of intangible benefits that are considered part of the job selection process that exist outside of compensation negotiations.

For example, can you:

  • Offer to help potential employees secure the necessary work visas and permits to live in the U.S. Few companies offer this perk, though doing so can help give you exposure to a much wider pool of talent from around the world.
  • Provide outstanding training and development opportunities. In most cases, offering to assist employees with the cost of pursuing further certifications is much less expensive than providing higher salaries or better benefits – and may pack just as much of a punch. People want to be associated with companies that invest in them, and operating a training and development program is one way to demonstrate this commitment.
  • Give employees a percentage ownership in your company. Doing so will provide them with a potentially lucrative tradeoff that encourages taking lower salaries in exchange for future rewards.
  • Create an engaging, ideal workplace. Bring in a massage therapist on Fridays, treat your staff to weekly coffee outings or arrange for on-site dry cleaning pickup. All of this costs substantially less than what you’d otherwise pay top-performing employees, making it an economical way to create the type of work environment that will attract the best employees in a cost-effective way.

Remember, you wouldn’t be a startup entrepreneur if you didn’t have a creative, independent spirit. Put these virtues to work on your human resources strategy, and you should be able to find ways to bring on top talent without overstepping your budget.

AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media and various other marketing strategies.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Warning: Unpaid Internships May Mean You’re Missing the Top Talent



As the lawsuits against unpaid internships pile up, it’s becoming even more necessary to innovate the way we look for talent. It’s almost impossible to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world when you’re a startup. Often the best you can offer is pizza and some equity.

But there are some companies out there getting creative with how they find new employees.

Hacking Your Way to a Job

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on GlobalHack, the quarterly hackathon held in St. Louis.

At GlobalHack 1, teams competed to develop an algorithm for TopOPPS, a new startup by Jim Eberlin. The winning team was awarded $50,000 in exchange for the work they did, and Eberlin was so impressed with the second place team, he threw in an extra $10,000 for them.

rsz_incontentad2But, he didn’t stop there.

After the event, Eberlin invited 18 of the engineers who competed to a private dinner, at which he held impromptu formal interviews. Five of those engineers now work full time for TopOPPS, and more hires are in the works.

“I call it Interviewing 3.0,” Eberlin said. “I spoke to each of them for about 10 minutes and narrowed our talent search down to the people who would make the best fit for TopOPPS.”

Beside the engineers Eberlin discovered at the hackathon, the press from the event has brought TopOPPS attention from developers all over the country, and many have applied separately to work for the company.

“Recruits” Provide Cheap Labor in Exchange for Job Opps

Another take on the recruitment front comes from Gawker media, the parent company of the infamous Valleywag.

It’s well known that paying writers a full time wage with the current economics of digital media is difficult. If The Atlantic can’t afford it, newer media outlets certainly can’t.

Gawker’s solution comes in the form of their new Recruits program. In the program, a writer is granted a short term contract, a small stipend, and their own blog. Each writer is judged on their amount of traffic they bring in, with the potential for a full time gig at Gawker.

I’m no fan of Gawker, and of course the Recruits program undoubtedly has something to do with a lawsuit from several unpaid interns. But considering the economics of online media, it isn’t a bad idea. It’s essentially a more formalized system of freelancing, which is what keeps most media sites in content.

The Future of Hiring

Of course, hiring isn’t the only reason to have unpaid internships, but it is common to bring interns into a full time job if they do great work.

However, shift is happening in the way we identify and recruit top talent. Much like the need for a college degree, unpaid internships are slowly losing popularity.

Companies–especially startups–would do well to look to TopOPPS and Gawker for inspiration on ways to innovate the talent search.

How to Make Open Call Interviews Work for You



Unlike formal, appointment-based interviews, the process of hosting an open call interview can be refreshingly fast. But with speed can come a certain level of uncertainty; open call interviews imply that anyone, of any varied background can walk through your doors and pitch themselves for a job they may have zero qualifications for.

So what is a founder to do? The answer is to learn how to properly manage the pros and cons of this process so that they not only work for the candidates, but for you, your schedule and the position at hand. Read on to discover 4 ways in which you can host an open call interview with a small business twist.

Pro: The Candidate Pool is Deep

Most open call interviews are just that; they list the job, the date, time and place of the interview and then open the floodgates. However, while it’s great to be introduced to a deep candidate pool, it may be too much to tread through the day of. Most people shy away from open call interviews for this very reason; it’s great to have a wide variety of candidates, but how many of them will actually be qualified?

Regain some control by posting the details of the job and requesting emailed information

BEFORE your reveal the date, time and location of the open call interview. You can put tests in place (i.e. Put “Kiwi” as the subject line) and immediately weed out those respondents that didn’t take to time to read and follow directions.

Keeping with the speed and convenience of open call interviews, perhaps request that people bring their resumes with them rather than attaching them for your lengthy review.

Instead, request email respondents to answer three easy questions in one simple sentence (i.e. “Why are you a fit for this job?”). With a quick scan you can still extend an open call invitation to numerous candidates; however you’ll have trimmed out those that are clearly not a fit right from the start.

Con: Time Is Limited

Open call interviews take place in a varied window of time (i.e. from 8am-10am). To help manage the influx of people coming in at varying times have a welcome packet prepared that people can fill out while they sit and wait for their turn. Use the packet to help cut through time constraints and get a jumpstart on the answers you’re looking for.

As time saving as these packets can be, it’s important to remember to keep the interview a two-way conversation. Let the packet serve as your guide by providing jumping off points for deeper, more thorough face-to-face discussions.

Pro: You Can Find Your New Hire By The Day’s End

The most exciting prospect of hosting an open call interview is the fact that by the end of the day, you may have found your next hire. He or she presented him/herself nicely, they answered the right questions and you have a good feeling about them…but hold on.

Just because you may feel like you have found your match, don’t rush the process of making a final hiring decision. Instead, offer your top candidates the chance to prove themselves with an individual, deadline-driven test. This test should be something they can do later a home and within a reasonable time frame. Pair the results with your feelings from the interview and you’ll be able to come to a more secure, thorough hiring decision.

Con: Options Are Overwhelming

The day of your open call interview will be a whirlwind. After interviewing multiple candidates for the same position it can be hard to keep all of the sorted detail straight.

One simple way to stay organized is to have three (unlabeled) No, Maybe and Yes piles to place those welcome packets in post-interview.

At the end of your open call you’ll have a pile of No’s to thank for their time, a Maybe pile that you’ll keep tabs on for the future, and a Yes pile to implement those individual tests. Staple any resumes you were handed to those packets for easy reference. Also, consider indiscreetly writing notes in a designated corner (i.e. Green eyes, flowered dress) as a way to help you match the faces with the evaluations later on.



Kelly Gregorio writes about small business topics while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a provider of merchant cash advances. You can read her daily business blog here.

14 Tips for Recruiting the Best Employees for Your Startup


Question: What’s your best tip for attracting top talent to a new startup?



Cultivate Future Leaders

“Highlight the experience your company can offer. Don’t focus on recruiting top talent by offering all the perks in the world; instead, make cultivating talent, who will eventually become leaders, a priority. It should be about the prospect’s passion for what your company is doing, not the daily catered meals (though I’m sure that’s nice, too).”


Understand What Makes Them Tick

“Everyone wants to be heard, and certainly understood. We’re a very strengths-based organization and we start from the day we begin recruiting or courting new talent. If you take the time to get to know what someone is looking for and what drives them, you not only can qualify if they’re the right fit for your team, but customize their role and your offer to what’s most important to them. Win-win!” Follow @laurenperkins

LAUREN PERKINS Perks Consulting

Sell the Vision

“We pay less. We work harder. We work longer hours. The only reason to join our team is because you want to be a part of what we are building. The best people want to be a part of big visions, so sell the vision. “


Be Aggressive and Relentless

“Anybody that’s any good, especially in a city like San Francisco or NYC, is going to be looking at a dozen or more offers. In order to close him, besides being generous with compensation, you have to be aggressive, getting your investors to call him on your behalf. Relentlessly follow up. Even more important, be organized with your interview process and move quickly without delay. Follow @sitepointmatt

MATT MICKIEWICZ Flippa and 99designs

Get Great Press

“Aside from selling the mission and vision of your startup, a great tip for reeling in awesome talent for your firm is to attract great media attention. Press is a wonderful conduit for getting more exposure to your business. Being able to share your mission with a broader audience means that your startup will get more eyeballs, and that extra reader may be your next best team member.”


Empower Them With Ownership

“Empower them with ownership and the opportunity to make decisions. People drawn to startups are disillusioned by big corporate structures and weary of working in an environment where they have no voice. If you tie the talent to the success of the company, everybody wins. Moreover, allow them to exercise the skills they enjoy employing. Retention skyrockets when talent is empowered and impassioned.”


Discover a Shared Passion

“Share your vision for your startup and what you hope to accomplish. Trying to lure top talent with perks, pay or other options may get their attention, but the people you should really be seeking are the ones interested in finding a role where they can have a meaningful contribution to something exciting. Plus, someone who isn’t passionate about what you are doing won’t be a great fit.”

BRANT BUKOWSKY Veterans United Home Loans

Network at Conferences

“We have found it helpful to attend industry-related conferences and casually chat with people who are attending or speaking to spread the word regarding available opportunities. If the person likes us, they will like working with or for us and/or recommend us to others who they think would be a good culture fit. Finding the right culture fit is more important to us than the depth of their skills.”


Take Your Time

“If you’ve set your company culture the way you want it, take your time during the hiring process. The culture will attract better people instantly. I’ve been known to conduct as many as five one-on-one interviews before hiring new personnel. That’s on top of several phone interviews with the prospect and other staff. I need to be absolutely sure the talent is where I want it. “

BRIAN MORAN Get 10,000 Fans

Be Transparent

“I’m always transparent with potential new hires. I show them our progress, but I also want them to see the warts. This is important for two reasons: 1) They’ll know exactly where the company stands. 2) It builds trust. Sharing the bad with the good shows employees that they can trust you to tell it like it is. Transparency sets an important standard for any company.”


Don’t Sell

“Conventional wisdom is to sell potential recruits on the company, vision, perks, etc. Don’t. Just tell them what you are and, more importantly, what you aren’t. You may lose some “rock stars” along the way, but you’ll build a loyal group of employees who know exactly what they signed up for.”


Show Off Company Talent

“A-players want to work with other A-players. So, it’s critical to showcase just how talented your current team is to a prospective employee. Besides making the recruit feel special, it also makes your team feel special to know that you value and respect their talents and abilities.” Follow @4collegeparents

SARAH SCHUPP UniversityParent

Hire Non-Local Talent

“Recruit people to your company and to your city. Santa Monica sells itself. When people relocate for a job, their commitment level is high, and their external social distractions are low. It’s an ideal circumstance for a startup where hours are often unreasonable.”


Emphasize Culture Fit

“Our company doesn’t necessarily look for “top talent” so much as it looks for high-character people with a good work ethic and technical aptitude. We look for people who are a fit for our culture, which is more important on a long-term basis for the good of the team.”

JOE BARTON Barton Publishing

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.


Hiring Wisdom From Kleiner Perkins’ Michael Abbott

Michael Abbott Kleiner Perkins*Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series on a recent fireside chat with former Twitter head of engineering and current Kleiner Perkins partner Michael Abbott.

Finding and hiring the right people is fundamental to the success of a business. Your employees are the lifeblood of your organization, and their abilities and dispositions are going to shape the way your company lives and grows. The challenge is sifting through the vast sea of talent in order to identify the right person for each position. This can involve a complicated set of value judgments that are not always easy to make.

Riviera Partners recently invited a group of up and coming industry directors to an intimate fireside chat with Michael Abbott about this very subject. Abbott is an expert on rapidly scaling teams for high tech ventures, who was able to take Twitter from just 45 engineers up to 200 in two years’ time. He has a lot of wisdom to share about the hiring process and advice for maintaining a high bar of excellence when forced to deal with rapid growth.

A key takeaway from the talk was that consistency is key. Standardizing the interview process allows you to accurately compare and evaluate the candidate. This might mean having a training program, or guidelines that the people conducting the interviews can follow. A consistent process ensures that the information you are using to evaluate a candidate is scalable, allowing you to make faster and better hiring decisions.

Abbott also discussed how important it is to understand your own career goals when considering a career opportunity. Some people are going to be happier, and more efficient at managing large teams. Others are just better suited to handling smaller, more personal groups. It’s all about finding your niche rather than comparing yourself to others in the field.

It was an enlightening conversation that brought up a lot of questions about the challenges that companies face when dealing with rapid growth and team scaling.

It’s important to get the right people in, but at the same time you have to understand that  you will make mistakes along the way. A consistent process undertaken by trained interviewers will help to cut down on these mistakes, and ensure that your company grows the right way.

Alaina Percival is the Head of Developer Outreach for Riviera Partners, a leading technical recruiting firm in Silicon Valley.

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