Contrary to popular belief, the visionary founder who single-handedly wills a unicorn into existence isn't real. You need a great founding team to bring your idea to life. Building a team of passionate people should be one of your top priorities as a start-up CEO.
To help you build your founding team, I've explained in detail how we have done it at EmployUs
. I hope this guide will shed light on the recruiting process to help other entrepreneurs build their teams. If you get the right people in the right seats early, you set yourself up for hiring success.
Finding Your Co-Founder:
Why: When you want to build a platform to connect employers and job seekers through trusted referrals, the combination of a tech entrepreneur and recruiting industry titan is a dynamic duo. Before anything could begin, two entrepreneurs had to meet to make EmployUs a reality.
The Perfect Fit: I'm frequently asked how a 22-year-old serial entrepreneur teamed up with a recruiting industry titan. My cofounder, Jeff Stocks, made a name for himself by spending 35 years as a CEO of one of Manpower’s largest recruiting and staffing operations in the world. We were introduced while I was a student at NC State University's Poole College of Management. We instantly hit it off and started putting the pieces together for what would become EmployUs. We worked together for about six months to make sure the chemistry was right, then made it official by incorporating the company in late 2014.
Recruiting Tip #1: There are many ways to find your co-founder(s). At my first start-up, we were all undergrads at NC State. I’ve seen early investors join start-ups as co-founders, former co-workers team up, or founders connecting on sites like FounderDating.com. No matter how you find each other, it’s really important to spend a lot of time together making sure you enjoy working together and want to experience the roller coaster ride of a start-up.
Who Should We Hire First?
Your first hires are betting their careers and livelihoods on you and your start-up. So they are taking on as much risk as your investors, if not more. Always remember that and let them do their due diligence on you and your start-up. At the earliest of stages, we knew we needed start-up veterans, generalists and people who wanted to fix how employers and job seekers connect.
"Your first hires are betting their careers and livelihoods on you and your start-up. "
Hire #1: Catrina Vienrich
Why: If you’re a start-up founder that cannot hire, you may have a really expensive hobby instead of a business. We needed to increase our capacity to achieve our mission and with ~20 customers on an MVP, it was time to bring in our first hire. Major accounts were closing and it was time to bring in someone with experience in sales and marketing to take us to a whole new level.
The Perfect Fit: I asked Lewis Sheats (Aka: The Best Professor at NC State) one question, "Who is the best sales and marketing person you know for an early-stage start-up?” Later that week, Sheats connected me with Catrina and we agreed to meet at the Demo Day for the Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program. Luckily, two investors sat next to her and when she asked what brought them there, they said they came just to see my pitch. That might have helped because after spending a few weeks getting to know Jeff, myself and our vision for the company, Catrina joined our team as vice president of sales and marketing. (Side note: Never got those investors, but Catrina was the biggest win for us at Demo Day.)
Recruiting Lesson #2: In the early days, you are your culture. The company is an extension of you, for better and worse. We passed on several good candidates because we didn't believe they would be a good fit for our culture. Figure out what matters to you first, then intentionally pursue people who fit your culture. Jeff and I believe in just getting it done. If we don’t know something, we learn. If something breaks, we fix it. If we can help, we do. Your first few hires are essentially co-founders; Jeff and I wanted someone as adaptive as us, quick to learn and willing to venture out into the unknown.
Hire #2: Mark Riedeman
Why: After three months in private beta and nearly one in six job seekers getting hired on our app, we needed to build out a full product and get ready to scale up our platform. It was time to bring in the technical depth we needed by hiring an experienced, early-stage technology leader.
The Perfect Fit: At TechBreakfast (a local meetup), I saw Mark Riedeman demo the software he built while on a year-long sabbatical. Before that, he spent over 20 years building engineering teams at 6Fusion, iContact (Acquired by Vocus for $170M) and ChannelAdvisor (IPO). Mark saw me pitch EmployUs at TechBreakfast a few months later, so by the next meetup when I asked the crowd for help finding the perfect CTO, a message from Mark was waiting for me on LinkedIn. The rest, as they say, is history. Mark joined the team and starting building as CTO.
Recruiting Lesson #3: Recruiting is about persistence. Get out there and pound the pavement. Make the calls. Go to the events. Ask around. Don't look for name brands, titles or the perfect resume. When you meet someone who might be a good fit, move quickly. The faster you can get to a quick no or outline next steps, the better (Something personally I need to improve on). Their time is valuable, as is yours. Be clear about your intentions, be brutally honest, and share your vision for the future.
The Founding Team Scales Your Start-Up
EmployUs is planning to double in size by the end of this year, and our first employees are helping recruit the next. If you want an awesome visual of this, check out the TED Talk called “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers. Literally, the first person doesn’t build the movement—the second person is the most important. For proof, let’s examine our third hire.
Hire #3: Jon Yildiz
Why: With our product soon to be released, we knew we needed a dedicated, data-obsessed, B2C marketer who wanted to scale up our marketplace to connect employers and job seekers through trusted referrals.
The Perfect Fit: A local career coach, John O’Connor, introduced a person (who was new to town) to Catrina at a local meet-up. After building 20+ profitable e-commerce businesses, engineer-turned-marketer Jon Yildiz set his sights on joining a business that improved the quality of people’s lives. A jack-of-all-trades B2C marketer, growth hacker, designer and coder, was attracted by our culture and commitment to help people work where they belong, Jon joined our team and hit the ground running as our director of growth.
Recruiting Lesson #4: Your early employees are your best recruiters. Once you have your first key hires in place, together, you can attract, recruit and retain a world-class team. You cannot compromise on your recruiting, building your culture or empowering your employees. As the CEO and founder, your job is to hire great people who eventually will also hire other great people. Empower your teammates to actively get to know others who might belong at your start-up.
Up Next in December: 5 Things You Need Before You Start Recruiting
*Disclaimer: I'm not perfect and neither is this guide, so if you're an entrepreneur, recruiter or start-up employee interested in sharing your perspective, comment or message me so we can create the best guide possible.