If I could go back in time and give myself one key piece of advice during the early days of ThinkingPhones, it would be this: Hire well and get the right people into key management positions as quickly as possible.
This may seem like an obvious goal, but all too often new businesses don’t place a great enough emphasis on hiring the absolute best. I once heard that your next hire should be better than 50 percent of your existing employees. Most growing companies don't follow this rule, and that is why there is often a gradual dilution of the talent and spirit of a startup.
Growing a business requires a delicate balancing act between achieving market viability, generating sales and properly serving and growing a customer base. One person can’t do it all, so it is critical to hire smart people with complementary skill sets to help strike the proper balance.
Long-term goals should always be front-of-mind when making hiring decisions, and this can be a daunting task when there are so many immediate needs to address. It’s hard to justify allocating precious funds for something like a full-time recruiter, especially in the initial stages of a business, but that is the time when a company builds its foundation, and it is critical to make it a strong one.
Compounding the issue for many new businesses is that it is impossible to quantify the impact a hiring decision will have on the company’s bottom line. But the fact of the matter is that you’ll never know what the second-choice candidate would have done differently, or who you might have attracted to the position, if you had extended your search. Just because something isn’t measureable doesn’t mean it isn’t critical, and when making early hiring decisions, businesses should stack the deck in their favor as much as possible by putting few limits on their candidate search.
In the early days of ThinkingPhones, we began by hiring our most qualified friends and former colleagues. As a bootstrapped startup, our focus was on simply keeping the company afloat, so we put all of our money into R&D to build our service, and into sales to sell that service. This meant foregoing a dedicated HR department and in-house recruiters. When we ran out of friends to hire, I began writing job postings myself and solicited resumes from Craigslist in order to generate candidates. The reason: The latter postings cost $25, versus $400 on Monster, or 25 percent of the first year’s fee for a higher-end recruitment service. It was a decision purely driven by money, without a thought to the long-term ramifications.
To be fair, many of our great early hires came from Craigslist, and this made me feel that I was doing a good job as our de facto HR department. The problem was, the candidate pool was very limited, so I was getting the best of what was available -- those reading Craigslist -- instead of getting the best. This became clear when we finally brought on dedicated in-house recruiters to source candidates full-time using modern recruiting tools. We immediately saw a huge improvement in the quantity and quality of candidates we were getting for our positions -- something we didn’t even realize we had been missing. There is no question in my mind that we should have done this sooner, even if it had to come at the expense of our engineering or sales headcount.
It takes a lot of money and effort to hire well, but in my experience there is no area of greater importance when you're building a company.