How to hire: Getting your first 3 employees as an early startup

As an early startup, you’re trying to get your first 3 engineers to join your team. How can you go about this strategically – what steps do you need to take? Let’s walk you through it. 

Use your network (Meet them in person when possible)

Meet up with some of the best engineers you know or have worked with. If unavailable, ask them to connect you with other great engineers like themselves. Be consistent in hitting up people you know for leads. Ensure to take advantage of the internet and use social media in your search. 

Engineers would provide you with the best leads, so network more with engineers. Requesting for someone’s help in person – over lunch or coffee – will get you more leads than asking over a phone call or via email. 

Referrals from your investors (Won’t be helpful for your first 2-3 hires though)

Networking with VCs would get you, badass engineers. However, most of those engineers are not the guys you need initially. VCs know a lot of people later in their career or those who have once worked in their portfolio. Such engineers typically tend to want to manage a team – you need someone ready to get their hands dirty. Also, they might cost you more – in cash and equity. So investor referrals might not be the best way to get your first hires. However, there are exceptions to this rule, but this has been proven to be true more often than not.

Investor closing candidates (Works most of the time)

There are instances where an engineer is weighing your offer in relation to another offer they have and you need some help with getting them on your team. You can call on one of your investors to help you out on that. The investor gives a 3rd party view to why your company is awesome. The candidate would feel more appreciated your investor is taking time to see them and have a conversation. It might be just the nudge you need.

Using LinkedIn (There are lots of great engineer waiting to be seen)

These few steps will help when looking for great hires:

  • Check for connections of people you know.
  • Request for an email introduction from everyone you know who is connected to an engineer you feel looks good.
  • Don’t send the request via LinkedIn, send it to their email. Then have them forward it via email to the prospect(s).
  • The prospect will get the email and be inclined to take action since it was forwarded by someone familiar. LinkedIn messages get overlooked easily, always use emails.
  • Ensure you personalise each email you send to prospects and mention something amazing about your startup. It could be your well-known investors or an article about the company on Techcrunch/Mashable, etc.

Don’t take no for an answer

More often than not you might get a response from the prospect after an introduction email that says “sorry, I currently engaged” or “I am not looking to move now”. This is not when you say “thank you” and move on. Request for 5 minutes of their time. You can ask if they know someone else who might be interested in the role. Also, ask them if it’s something they would consider in the future. Most times the best people are not looking. You’ll need to convince them to make a move and it’s better you have a conversation with them so maybe in 3 to 6 months when they decide to move they can follow up with you based on the previous discussion. 

Note: If someone says no, always ask for other leads they may know.

Speak to team leads/directors (Even if you’re not hiring them)

You might feel like those people are too senior for the role you’re hiring for and this might be true. However, they’ve managed a lot of people and can come in handy for you. Ask them to refer you to top 2-3 people who no longer work under them, works like magic.

It’s about the numbers

Hiring an amazing early team is about the numbers. It might be your major task for a couple of weeks. Just like sales, generating a full pipeline is key after which you start filtering through the list for a great fit. Don’t compromise on your standards. Hiring is easier than firing, also the cost of an early mistake is pretty high for you. Be smart about it, don’t look twice if the person is not what you need, focus more on the good profiles. You might be under pressure/fatigue but don’t give in. Keep looking till you get the right one. Don’t give in!

Your first employee would be the toughest to get

Getting your first employee is going to be a very tough one as equity doesn’t hold up to much and generally, it’s hard getting someone who ticks all the boxes and also believes in your dream. Don’t crack, don’t bend, you’ll get that first hire eventually. Another tip when looking for a first employee is search for people who are at startups not doing so great – as long as they’ve not been there for long. You’re looking for people at a startup because it shows their willingness to take risks. 

Another alternative is looking at people who work at a startup bought by a bigger company. You can add this to your criteria when networking so it helps.

Do you think we’ve left anything out? You could share some tips that worked for you especially when hiring you first 1-5 employees. We’re open to learning from your experience. 

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