How to do effective hiring for startups

How to do effective hiring for startups

“Join us Diksha. We are creating something disruptive. Let us work hard and if it works, we both will scale heights. If it doesn’t, we both will have something greater outside this startup. There will still be many doors open. I assure you.”

I still do not know what was so impactful about these words that they stayed with me. Back in 2014, I was told this by a startup founder who wanted to hire me. Then was when I realized that hiring for startups is different and how difficult it would be for them to find people who are like-minded and who believe in their idea as much as they do.

Hiring for startups and retention of that talent are inter-related. If you manage to find the right talent for your startup, you will retain it. But if you end up hiring the wrong people who are a misfit for your organization, you will lose them in no time. A startup should ideally spend 75 percent of its human resource energy in finding talent and retention will follow. So what does it take to find suitable people to work with? Here are a few tips that might help you in your next hire.

State the hard facts first

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,” writer and entrepreneur Mark Twain says it all about your first step when you are hiring for startups.

Sample this: Apurv Agarwal, Founder at SquadrunInc is a wise young man. Any candidate who applies for a job in his startup is  made to read a blog written by him titled Our hiring framework – Why NOT to work with SquadRun. This blog talks about everything one would have to be prepared for if they join the company. “You cannot waste time reaching out to the wrong people and explaining to them what it takes to work in a startup. So we wrote a blog mentioning everything that it takes to work at Squadrun from compatibility to capability,” Apurv feels that this strategy has helped him not only in hiring the right talent but also retaining it.  His team has employed 18 people in the last 18 months all through a very rigorous exercise.

“The key is to get the first 20 people right in your startup and once that is done- the organization will have a strong foundation“

,he says. As Apurv did, tell candidates about what you are exactly looking for and what they can expect out of this job. Convey to them that it is going to be hard work and do a reality check. Let them be prepared for the worst.

Catch them young

The average age of employees working in a startup is 26 years. There is a reason why young people like to work with startups and you must leverage this. Om Kanwar, Co-founder, says, “With the entire buzz around start-ups, thankfully young people are increasingly willing to work for start-ups. Engineering graduates are open to take up offline sales and marketing roles, just to get experience of how to take a product from concept to market. With all the ‘demographic-dividend’ around start-ups, India is increasingly a place to do startups from. ” When hiring for startups, get young people who are enthusiastic, they want to try new things and take challenging roles. Do not restrict yourself to campus hiring or getting people from top B-Schools or engineering colleges. Try to find young talent that thinks out of the box. Another reason for hiring young people is that they will be more adaptive to your ideas. Someone who has more experience will probably have more difficulties to adapt to a new or different work culture.

Offer equity

This is an interesting and tested proposition for both young and experienced employees, when hiring for startups. Everybody who is willing to join you wants to be a part of the growth curve in a startup and have ownership in your big idea. Kshitij Garg, Founder, Healers at Home shares, “We often offer esops (employee stock option schemes) in the form of salary hike to employees who join us. This has worked for us in many ways. We end up hiring people who are here with a long term vision.” You also might come across people who will join you at a lower salary than their previous one but are interested in esops. Normally the idea is to pay less than the market standard but provide shares that vest over time.

Give flexibility in working style and switching roles

The biggest incentive for young people is to have flexibility in the roles they perform and their timings. They do not wish to work in a fixed role with fixed timings.  As you are hiring for startups, you should be concerned with how the work is getting done rather than having a bureaucratic culture with boring working hours. It is a good idea to experiment with  rotating   roles — young people wish to try doing different things before finding out what exactly would they love to do the most and for the longest. Kshitij from Healers at Home gives a freelance project to candidates before giving them a full time job. This could be in different areas- marketing, product development or technology. This helps candidates identify what kind of work they want to do and the company to recognize their potential before joining. Another behavioral tip is that try and make your employees feel precious, always make it a point to recognize their work. One of the best things about a startup job is that employees can sense the impact of their work immediately. The teams are small and what each one of them does, matters.


Diksha Dutta is an Indian columnist and media professional. She has a wide experience of writing on startups/VCs/PE during her six-year long stint as a full-time business journalist. At present, she is also working on a book on Indian businesses with Bloomsbury India. Diksha works at Ashoka University, a pioneer in liberal arts education in India. She is based in New Delhi, India.

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