We all know that startups are about people. That’s got to be your real competitive advantage. Great people will figure out the market and crush it. So how do you attract great people to your team early on when the risks are high and the pay is low? How do you compete with big companies offering large salaries and with thousands of other startups offering a chance to be a part of something? The answer is actually quite simple: Be visible, passionate and genuine.
Most startups are invisible. You might think you’re making noise on Twitter or Facebook, but be honest with yourself. Is anyone really paying attention? The kind of visibility I’m talking about is attending and networking at local tech meet-ups, speaking at conferences as a thought leader, and hanging out where your targets are such as college campuses, industry events and meet-ups. Remember that the best people are generally employed already. If you’re spending all of your time promoting your startup on job boards or events targeting new hires, you’re doing it wrong. You’re invisible. Get out there, and be part of the community.
See what other startup mentors have to say about recruiting talent. Most importantly, be passionate. Talk endlessly about what you love. Tell people what your startup stands for. With smaller salaries and longer hours, your best bet is to attract people that have the same passions as you do. Find people who care about the mission over the money, and who care more about your vision of how the world should change more than your health and vision plan. This means you’ve got to be visible and passionate in the places that like-minded people hang out. One of the Techstars companies, Foodzie, was great at this. They literally would not hire anyone who was not passionate about artisan food. They looked for employees at cooking classes and nice restaurants, and online forums about amazing food. They were very visible there, and they were obviously passionate about what they were building. In turn, people were drawn to them.
Finally, be genuine. You can’t fake passion. People will see right through it. Genuinely passionate people give first without expectation of return. Sure, you’re looking for job candidates, but try helping people because you genuinely care. I’m an investor and board member of a great company called SendGrid, which gives away free phone support to anyone who has any problem with email deliverability. You don’t even have to be a customer. I can’t tell you the number of software engineers or support team members SendGrid has recruited because they genuinely want to give first and in a genuine way.
I often say that many startup tactics are like dating. There are endless analogies. Generally in life, if you’re visible, passionate and genuine, you get lots of inbound interest from the right sorts of people. Hiring for your startup is no different.
This post recently appeared on The Accelerators at the Wall Street Journal, where startup mentors discuss strategies and challenges of creating a new business.