Best-in-Class Founders Have This in Common: They Obsess Over Hiring
Nothing is as important in the early days of building your business. Here are perspectives from three exceptionally hiring-minded founders in the Primary portfolio and trends I’ve seen leading our People and Networks function.
Many early-stage founders are so laser-focused on driving revenue through marketing and sales that they begin to view recruiting as a time-consuming, administrative task that can be outsourced. I’m here to tell you that mindset is misguided.
As an early stage company, the talent market likely has never heard of you. And no external recruiter is going to pitch your vision as well as you do. You’d never outsource pitching your first customers; and you should never outsource pitching your first hires.
Throughout my career as a Chief People Officer and now as a Partner at Primary, I see again and again that the most successful founders are those who prioritize recruiting. When I ask these founders what advice they’d give to other entrepreneurs, they unanimously agree: Recruit exceptional people.
How? Incorporate the talent acquisition process, from sourcing to interviewing to closing candidates, into your weekly schedule alongside your other high priorities. Early stage founders should spend at least one-third of their time networking, sourcing, interviewing and closing candidates.
There’s good news: Developing a talent funnel requires the same skills used to build a commercial funnel. For marketing and sales, you have to understand who your customers are as well as how to reach them, how to convert them, and how to keep them happy. The talent funnel is the same, except your customers are prospective employees and your product is your company’s workplace. Good founders are experts in their commercial funnel. Great founders apply those skills to become experts in their talent funnel as well.
Though I’ve seen this to be true more times than I can count, I think it’s best to hear from founders who have learned the lesson themselves.
Timing matters: Start focusing on recruiting pre-Series A
“Paying close attention and being involved in recruiting has been the biggest unlock for me as a founder. It’s a never-ending process, but it’s the highest leverage thing you can do as a CEO after you’ve found product-market fit.
Having the right people on the team is 90% of the battle. Prior to figuring that out, I would spend all my time reading management books and thinking through frameworks for communication and OKRs. But that’s all a waste of time if you don’t have the right people in the right seats at the right time.
I only started to think critically about recruiting after my Series B, and that was way too late. When you’re late-seed heading into Series A—when you have clear product-market fit, things are repeatable, and you have a path to growth—that’s when you need to look at your team and think about who you need on board to execute over the next 12 months.”
-Ryan Denehy, Founder & CEO, Electric AI
Time and resources invested in recruiting is well spent
“The job of every founder is first and foremost to build great teams. For me, that meant an obsession with recruiting. I interviewed every single person of the first 140 people we hired—I was sitting in a phone booth every day for five to eight hours. The company's trajectory changed with the 14th person to join our team. We hired an incredible recruiter, and built a structured recruiting process with bar-raisers. I still stayed involved as a final culture screen at the end and was active in the closing process.
Building a best-in-class team should undoubtedly be your priority early on, and you have to do whatever it takes to close a candidate. I recommend getting investors involved in the hiring so they can evangelize the business.”
-Toni Oloko, Cofounder, Dandy
Bring candidates into your big challenges and team culture
“I spend 15-20 hours a week sourcing and recruiting. Beyond putting in the time, I find that the smartest people tend to be motivated by interesting problems. It's a bit counterintuitive, but I love being upfront about the most complex issues we're facing, as it can get the right candidates hooked on thinking through how they'd solve them. I've had more than one candidate join because they got fixated on a problem we talked about together.
In the end, you're selling the dream of what it would be like to work together. Speaking about culture will never be as impactful as feeling it firsthand—holding group interviews, in-person working sessions, or dinners can seem expensive at the time but more than worth it if the candidate feels a connection with the team. Taking time as a founder to meet with a candidate in person is also expensive, but going the extra mile for a candidate can be far more impactful and demonstrative of how you as a leader value your team than pawning off the process to a recruiter.”
-Pan Chaudhury, CEO & Cofounder, Perry Health