How to hire for bootstrapped digital startup?

hiring-bootstrapped-startup

Hiring for bootstrapped startup is always difficult, especially when you are building your prototype or incubating it using angel fund. A bootstrapped startup always goes through several challenges before they find the right people on board.

If you are one of those bootstrapped startup owners who is running or planning for his digital or tech startup, get ready to face the pain of your lifetime in finding the right set of people for your company.

And the below graphic would be sufficient to demotivate you further:

20 reasons startups fail

According to the above research by CB Insights, 23% of the bootstrapped startups shut down because they could not find the right team. So don’t worry, you are not alone in this pursuit.

With limited funds, poor office space (sometime no office space), lack of technology infrastructure (forget about the Macs, people would be lucky to get some decent Windows PC configuration), and absolutely no brand name, you just don’t have any negotiating or attractive proposition.

Also read: RIP Reports – Worldwide Failed startup trends

But like Friedrich Nietzsche has rightly said,

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Here are some suggestions ( I won’t call them tips), which I’ve figured out after working & consulting with different stage startups in my career:

Stop hiring people like yourself

One of the common aspect of most of the early stage startups, is that the founders have very limited or no experience in hiring in their career. Result? They end up hiring resources like themselves so that they feel most comfortable. Eventually, they end up building a team with similar shades of skills. Most of these resources join because of fancy designations offered by the founders.

Remember that you need people who are “go go go” types with 100-percent drive, and also people who are meticulous, detail-oriented and know how to create solid internal processes.

Stop looking for ‘only’ MBA’s or ‘only premier institutes’ candidates

MBAs bring a lot of value on the table for any early stage startup, there is no doubt about that. Polished communications, problem solving skills, fresh ideas etc. But over obsessive nature towards hiring only MBA’s would make your life miserable and could lead to delays in product and brand build up strategy. Look for key skills without which you would not be able to take off your dream, instead of just MBA. For e.g., if you are hiring for a new digital media company, look for candidates who have worked as a media planner in any advertising agency or who have handled marketing operations for any brands.

Also read: Why I Don’t Advise Bootstrapped Startups to Hire M.B.A.s by Vivek Wadhwa

Hire people who make you do something crazy

Another challenge for a lot of younger startup CEOs is that they don’t necessarily have a large enough network from which to pull talent that they need. New founders will often hire friends, and there are pros and cons to that.

On the one hand, there’s a huge amount of loyalty, and you can pull in friends who are in it to win it, and who back you 100-percent. On the flip-side, they might not fall into the normal lines of authority, or you could just end up with yes men who agree to things, even if the ideas are ridiculous. The key is to hire people who will tell you that you’re doing something crazy.

Here’s a must watch video on Bootstrapped Startup hiring strategy:

 

How to foolproof your digital startup hiring strategy?

digital startup hiring strategy

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.

~ Lawrence Bossidy (Former COO of GE and author)

I wish I could’ve mailed the above quote in 70 font size, Arial Bold Face to all the Digital Marketing companies ( especially Agencies & Publishers ). Needless to say that building your startup hiring strategy is a never ending Everest climb for all organisations ( digital or non digital ).

Though bigger digital brands find it slightly easy to attract the right talent, retaining the talent becomes a bigger pain for them as well.

Ask any HR specialist or recruiter, they would say the trend is nothing different from other industries. People are looking to match the pace of their career growth with the rising costs. An average salary increase of 12% is completely disconnected with rising inflationary conditions. This will build a spiral effect, people who are not satisfied with their financial conditions will always be the first ones to look out for better jobs & opportunities.

In an interview (watch the video) given by Mark Zuckerberg, he made a profound statement, I quote:

The best people I’ve hired in my life were those who didn’t have much of engineering experience ~ Mark Zuckerberg

Startup Hiring Strategy isn’t just about hiring the best people with skills or for that matter who are stable in their careers, it is also about getting those who have a strong & relevant point of view about what you believe in, even if they do not have the experience or qualification from reputed engineering colleges.

I also believe, that in every industry, people have their own set of challenges due to which they show unstable tendency at work places. Of course, there will always be few individuals who do not fall in line despite a lot of effort by the management, but in general, people hate updating their resumes every year.

Also Read : Why Job Hopping is no longer a stigma globally?

As a business owner ( especially a start up owner ), attrition is something I should always keep at the back of my mind as one of the challenges which could hamper my growth story. Often start ups do not factor attrition while giving projections to their investors, which I believe is a massive error. The sooner they’ll accept the lack of permanence in the employee-employer relationship, the better it will be for their future enterprise. Once the degree of attrition is understood & acknowledged in any industry, you can then plan your resources a lot better.

The question is, as a business owner, how can you deal with this kind of situation?

Team Composition

First, make hiring a continuous process and not just restricted till the desired roles are filled. Managers should always be on a lookout for quality resources with value added skills for the team. For instance, do not hire resources of same nature & type, hire people with differentiated skill sets which will add value in long term. People love to be in a team where they can learn from each other. Collaborative learning is possible when you have people with different skill-sets.

Long term hiring

Second, do not hire people for solving your short term problems. For instance, if your key Account Manager decides to leave, it is bound to hit your operations & would also create uncertainty at client’s end, but your new hiring should not be to fill the immediate gap, instead it should attract people who are looking for a challenge in their careers to put their skill to test. Employees who join start ups from big companies usually carry a lot of baggage of their esteemed employer. At times it can be fatal for team dynamics.

Performance linked remuneration

Third, hiring people on performance linked remuneration, incentives & contracts could be another option. If you build your digital company’s team dynamics this way, employees would be exactly aware of what they are chasing, what team is chasing & how they can work towards it in a logical yet innovative way, Managers KRA would be to maximise potential of each individual who is working as a part of this contract.The best part, build substantial amount of incentives ( both monetary & non monetary ) which would drive morale among the senior & junior level employees.

The last point needs an Industry buy-in, but we are witnessing this trend already in few small to mid size digital-IT & digital-Infra companies where other than the sales force, revenue support functions like account management/ client servicing & customer support have been connected to measurable performance linked metrics.

The contracts are time bound but readily renewable subject to agreement by both parties (employee & employer). It offers a very flexible working relationship to individuals where everything remains constant except that employees are free to move out after the contract period is over.

One of the main challenges any digital startup company will face is poaching from upcoming start ups. Actually the poor demand-supply ratio of quality resources has made it absolutely imperative for any company  to desperately hold on to their trained resources.

Today recruiters are under severe pressures to find quality talent for their clients. No start up has any time to waste on training semi skilled employees. They have a running train of profitability & projections to catch up without which they would not get their next round of funding from the investor.

So think of it, time bound, performance linked contracts isn’t a bad option in digital business, it may also prove to be a win-win for the individual & start up clients & agencies in the long term.

How to hire talent for your digital startup?

digital startup hiring strategy
So which version of Android do you own?, a question once put up by a hiring manager in the interview to a young aspiring digital fresher.”I use latest Jelly bean 4.2.3″, prompt came the reply by the youngster.

To my surprise, the kid was later hired for his good IQ, but that organisation did not fire the manager for his oblivion & utter ignorance since 4.2.3 was not even released by google. 🙂

But that’s not the point.

The point is, should we judge any fresh digital marketing talent simply by their knowledge (let me rephrase), by their “borrowed knowledge?”

The answer is a BIG NO!

I agree the quest for hiring digital marketing talent is fairly difficult (for any company) but it need not go through the knowledge lane.

At times,as hiring managers, we must try to find out the intent of individuals, as to what has prompted them to pursue digital marketing as a career option. If digital is a way of life for any individual, then regardless of the smart device they own, they would (and should) have a very strong opinion about its different facets from macro viewpoint.

Finding someone’s perspective (unique or borrowed) can actually become a strong way to differentiate the fresh digital talent available in the market. It will help you to identify who amongst all the candidates, can add some value to the table by their logical &/or lateral thinking.

Another problem which most of the hiring managers would face during this quest is something which is similar to arrange marriages in India. Whenever you meet any new candidate for the interview, often they sound fake in order to get the job.

Now you may argue that faking is not something we can control. Humans are bound to fake, and that’s what my point is. Why to assess them on their borrowed knowledge when you know that they can fake it?

But hang on, you cannot fake a perspective, can you? I agree that you would need to have some knowledge of the subject in question before having an opinion but what you need to judge is whether the candidate offering borrowed perspective (mostly from Google) during the interview?

The hiring needs for digital operations is bound to shoot up exponentially in times to come. A recent review done by 32 marketers on the future of Internet Marketing suggests that the pace of growth in digital jobs in years to follow will outpace any other vertical or horizontal globally.

Now these are just statistical conversations which should  be used in right perspective. What is critical for any HR team/ recruitment firm/ hiring manager is forecasting the kind of resources they would need in next 2-3 years.

Ideally, they should carve their quest well in advance & should also decide if they would like to take a detour from knowledge lane.

On that note, I would like to leave you with this wonderful video chat with Itzhak Perlman (leading violinist), who talks about how to identify creative & imaginative talent?