Hiring your first few employees can often be as hard as choosing your co-founders. Especially in the early days of your startup, when you’re often only months from running out of money, hiring the wrong person can be disastrous.
Yet it’s hard to accurately vet potential candidates. Cold job interviews can be an unreliable litmus test for hiring. Even the traditional green-light for someone who’s graduated from an Ivy League school has been proven more noise than signal. And if, like us, you spend the first six months of your startup under a rock, your social capital may begin to dry up.
So with no real barometer for reliable talent and a fast-evaporating social network, where should early founders snag that elusive star talent?
Below we’ll outline how to squeeze those last drops of talent out of your own social circles, how to incentivize current employees to lure in potential candidates in their networks, and how to entice “superconnectors” to recruit through their own far-reaching nets. Together, these methods can be an incredibly effective hiring practice – a comprehensive employee-referral-engine as good as any high-level recruiter.
To do this, you’ll want to tap into your own network, your employees’ network, and a super connectors’ network.
Tap Into Your Network
Your friends are often the best source of early hires. Pitching one or two of your smartest friends and getting them to join your startup (or at least champion it) is crucial in those early days when nobody talented wants to join a no-name fledgling company with little to no funding. But how do you go about pitching your friends?
First, figure out what motivates them. Would they buy into your vision for the company or are they interested in progressing their career? Customize your pitch for them.
Next, figure out a venue for the pitch. Do you bring it up at a bar you often frequent, a nice restaurant, or at a shooting range? Find the one that suits your friend the best.
Finally, when pitching, be sure to communicate the excitement and vision you have for the company while also giving the person an easy out if they need it. It may be the case that the engineer friend of yours at SpaceX won’t be able to join simply because she’s supporting her parents back home. Too much pressure may put pressure on your friendship.
Tap Into Your Employees’ Networks
Companies such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all established employee referral programs that give employees monetary rewards for referring friends who get hired. Why?
Smart people know other smart people. If you hired an outstanding front-end software engineer, chances are they are friends with other outstanding software developers. If you ask most founders whom they hired for their first employees, it’s almost never a stranger. Most often, it’s their college roommate, next door neighbor or best friend’s boyfriend from high school. In order to capitalize on this potential talent pool, it’s important for a company to establish a culture of friend referrals.
First, communicate with the team the type of candidate you’re hiring, the skills you’re looking for, and the bonus you’ll give if a referral is hired. Then make sure your employees have the information they need to talk about your company’s impact and answer any friends’ questions. Finally, providing the employee with a flex budget of even $500 a month will allow them to wine and dine potential candidates without worrying about paying for meals themselves.
Tap Into Superconnectors’ Networks
So what exactly is a superconnector, and why are they so important? A superconnector is someone who has an abundant network comprised of many weak ties. These people might be reporters, authors, VCs, philanthropists or board members of Fortune 500 companies.
But oftentimes, due to their large network, superconnectors are overwhelmed with opportunities. That’s why it’s important to figure out how you can align both your objectives so they get value from helping you. Perhaps they’re incentivized by profit, and offering advisory shares or consultant fees would entice them to help your startup. More likely, the company is building something the superconnector is passionate about and involving them as a mentor would excite them.
The question remains: Where do you find these superconnectors if you have none in your network? We reached out to our friend, No. 1 superconnector guru Keith Ferrazzi. Keith, best-selling author of “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back,” offered this advice:
“Conferences are always a great place to start, if you do your research. Know who’s attending and how you can be of service to them, then create your own event [during the conference]. I like to schedule my own dinner and invite people I’d like to bring into my network to get to know them on a personal basis. Invite good friends and a few weak ties and encourage them to bring a guest. But keep it relatively small – whatever size you can manage so everyone can interact but not feel overwhelmed.”
The early hires you make at your company will set its cultural DNA for years to come and set you on a quick path to success or failure. By hiring people who’ve been vetted by you or people in your network, you’re able to ensure you’re hiring the best. So what are you waiting for? Call up that Facebook engineer you went to middle school with and see if she wants a job.
Andrei Lyskov, a business development associate at Soylent, contributed to this article.
Author: Cooper Harris, Founder, Klickly. Featured in Forbes, Inc, Mashable, Women2.0. Nominated Google “Young Innovator” & L’Oreal’s “Digital Woman of the Year”