December 6, 2022

Hiring at startups - what we learnt at Untold Stories Budapest

“Hiring is easy peasy” - said no one ever.

Last week we had the chance to listen to some exciting presentations and panel discussions at the Untold Stories Conference in Budapest. One of the most useful sessions for our team was given by Jiří Nečas (Productboard) about a very actual topic for us: hiring.

Everyone will tell you it's the hardest thing you will ever do as a founder and you will believe them. But in the end, you'll still underestimate how hard and time-consuming it really is. During his presentation, Jiří shared the most common pitfalls they have encountered while scaling a startup. Now let’s see those pitfalls from 1 to 8.

Pitfall 1: Not having a plan:

Even when you are only a team of 2 with no hiring experience, as a step zero, come up with a plan even before raising money. Sit down with your managers or the founding members, and ask them how they see their team in a year's time (or any period of time) and how they envision the future of their department. Then use the information to build an org chart.

In order to have a realistic plan, you should find the answer to the following questions:

  1. What are the gaps in our current org design?
  2. What is the work that actually needs to be done?
  3. Do we have enough resources to fill this plan?
  4. What happens if we fail to hire this concrete role?
  5. Do we need to work with an agency or hire a recruiting team?
By the way, have you heard about the 30-60-90 plan? Before starting to polish those LinkedIn job postings, think about each and every role, and write down what you expect from the new hires for the first 30, 60 and 90 days. This will help you get a better understanding of what you are looking for in a candidate, but it comes in handy during performance reviews too.

Pitfall 2: Hiring too quickly

This mistake is relatively easy to avoid, but you always have to keep in mind: Be patient, and wait for the right candidate. Especially at an early stage, you shouldn’t settle for the second best. You will  need a person for each position who raises the bar.

Pitfall 3: Not knowing who should be the first hire

To avoid the third mistake, you can seek help from outside too. Hire a player-coach. Someone who:

  • can roll up the sleeves
  • experienced the relevant stage
  • built some infrastructure in the past
  • has a potential to lead a team
  • will be the cultural co-founder

First hires are crucial, make sure you consider all your options.

Pitfall 4: Lack of knowledge of the new function

It’s natural that you will need new people for positions or fields you are not an expert of. You shouldn’t worry, but be prepared. How to avoid our fourth mistake?

You need an experienced person in the field to be your advisor, be it an outside consultant or a VC partner with relevant experience.

Pitfall 5: Copy&paste solutions

What worked for your last company won’t necessarily work for this one. Also, what worked for hiring marketing professionals, won”t necessary work for hiring software engineers. Copy&paste solutions sound comfortable, but in the end you may need to make extra efforts to find the right person.

How to avoid our fifth mistake? Adapt everything to the company's values and find what makes you and your company different.

Pitfall 6: Outdated hiring model based on volume

Are you still waiting for candidates to come to you? Is all your hiring model based on inbound leads? Yes, you guessed it, it’s a mistake. The best of the best are not likely to be looking for a new job. You make a mistake by not reaching out to great candidates. Did you know that it takes 12-20 touchpoints to influence a career decision? After Jiří’s presentation, we know that, and we should definitely do something with this fact. But what can we do?

Outdated hiring models based only on volume must go. Instead, try to build long-term relationships, be connected in the community, focus on employer branding in your PR and social media activity, and encourage your team to be involved too.

Pitfall 7: You're not investing time in sharing

Creating and maintaining a community is a must, where everyone feels connected and driven by the same goals. Where people are happy to share their thoughts, experiences and expertise. You should encourage your team to be more involved by showing them the result of their work, giving them kudos after a job well done. Promote them in-house so others can recognise their achievements too.

Pitfall 8: Hiring an inexperienced first people ops person

No sugar-coating needed here, your first people ops person should know how work is done, and calibration is a must.

Last but not least, Jiří summarized the key take-aways, which we found super-useful as our team is growing day-by-day:

  1. Hiring is the hardest thing you'll do. Do not underestimate it!
  2. Invest time into planning your hiring & org structure.
  3. Leverage the power of your network and contacts.
  4. Enter the modern hiring ecosystem.
  5. Start building a strong authentic employer brand.
  6. What you give is what you get back.

What do you think? Have you ever made any of these 8 mistakes? (We definitely did, and learnt a lot from them:) )

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