The Ultimate Hiring Plan for Startups (aka Let This Be Your Wingman)
Okay, so maybe we are diehard Top Gun fans but we know a good wingman when we see one. It’s your ride or die, the one who always has your back and never leaves you in the fight alone. Granted, hiring a team isn’t exactly an air battle, but it’s no walk in the park, either.
Thankfully, we’ve been around the block long enough to be that expert eye keeping watch just over your shoulder. And we know (from experience) that having a recruitment plan is actually what creates the difference between great software development teams and bad ones.
The best engineering leaders focus on hiring. They think hard about the funnel of candidates, and how to streamline the process so that decisions can be made very quickly. Bad managers are more reactive, constantly trying to backfill positions or scrambling to find candidates to put out today’s fire drill.
If you aren’t already a great product leader, we know you want to be one. Let TurnKey be your trusted guide! Read all about how—and why—to make a recruiting plan. (Then give us a ring and let’s fly off into the sunset together.)
- Why should startups develop a hiring plan—and when?
- Why do Venture Capitalists care about hiring plans?
- How is a hiring plan for a startup different from one that a larger, more established company uses?
- What are the major components of any good hiring plan?
- What are the key steps to making your hiring plan actionable?
- How can TurnKey help your startup with hiring?
- Should you manage the hiring of a development team yourself or work with a partner?
- Some final thoughts
Why should startups develop a hiring plan—and when?
The main reason to develop a recruitment plan is so you can manage your budget and not overcommit.
To be clear, managing a hiring plan against a budget is a good thing. Everyone hopes they won’t need to fundraise again, but hope is not a business strategy, so it’s likely you’ll have to head down the financing path again. As you plan that next round, you’re also planning your company’s spend—and spend is one of the key areas you can control.
Before you raise, you should know what your R&D budget is, and how far this budget will take you in terms of key milestones, so you can make appropriate decisions around it. Now, the truth of the matter is that regardless of what your roadmap looks like, you usually won’t have enough good people to deliver everything you want at the quality standard you aspire to. So plotting and locking the numbers in a spreadsheet is the most important thing you can do.
Once the budget is in place, work backwards to understand what kind of folks you can hire and how to stretch your dollar even further.
The next step? Get those sexy job descriptions drafted and start executing against your hiring plan. Ultimately, a company is a group of people. The higher the quality of the people, the better your company will be. So hiring has to be the number one priority of every growing company—including yours.
Why do Venture Capitalists and other key investors care about hiring plans?
Investors are always looking for key signals that tell them whether a company has the chops to make it to the promised land. A strong hiring plan indicates a few things to your current and prospective investors (whether they be sophisticated angels or experienced venture capitalists):
- You not only realize that hiring should be your number one priority, but that it IS your number one priority. We know, we know. All the business books say that customers should be the number one priority. But without great people making your great product, there will be no customers. Happy customers and revenue growth are always indicators that your startup has a high-performing team in place.
- You have thought through the hiring challenges you may face and that you have a plan for any scenario. This gives investors comfort that you have visualized and analyzed the landscape and you’re prepared for whatever comes at you.
- You are open to input—investors will be free to react to the plan and help you overcome any obstacles you may encounter.
So why are they looking for these signals? Here’s the skinny: investors (especially VCs) want to know that the teams they invest in have a plan and can execute against it.
As the old Silicon Valley cliche goes, ideas are a dime a dozen—it’s the execution that’s the hard part. Having a well-baked plan tells investors that you know what matters most.
How is the hiring plan for a startup different from that of a larger, more established company?
There are a number of key differences between the hiring process and plan of a startup and how a more seasoned company approaches the build. Let’s count the three big ones:
- People: Startups are usually looking for doers and makers. These folks are all in—ready to roll up their sleeves regardless of titles or bureaucracy. By contrast, mature companies prefer people who understand diplomacy and how to be effective in bureaucratic systems.
- Attitude: Startups want people with a growth mindset; they’re excited, creative, outside-the-box thinkers. Mature companies look for people adept in the complex art of large org chart navigation.
- Culture:Startups are desperate for a strong culture fit because it’s a small pond—every fish is a big one. Mature companies are usually too large to have one individual influence the broader corporate vibe.
If we were to rank the above factors, we’d put most of our dollars behind door #3: Culture. Especially in the early stages, the vibe is shaped by the majority, so you have to put every hire under a microscope.
A hiring mistake in the early days can be super costly. One bad egg can infuse the rest of the company in a toxic funk for life.
Pro tip: Until your company has 50+ employees, your CEO should interview every candidate and evaluate them against the company culture as you grow.
From a salary perspective, startups will also want to look at people who are willing to take a salary risk in exchange for equity. As you know, startups hire believers. (Mature companies hire mercenaries that work for the highest bidder.)
In other words, you will encounter candidates who don’t want to take a risk—and that’s a good thing. Ask the right open-ended questions and believe the honest answers you get.
Why? Because you need people who are keen on taking a chance and working without any oversight. You want people that are completely driven by your mission and totally focused on over-executing on the promised deliverables.
Faith and enthusiasm will take your culture farther than skill alone. (Write that down!)
What are the major components of any good hiring plan?
Iceman wasn’t all good looks—he had the skills and smarts to back them up. Your hiring plan needs to be well-rounded, too. Let’s look at the three big items you need to include when creating a kickass recruiting strategy:
a). An attractive brand for employees.
Consider this: As people who need to buy into and believe in your brand, your employees are customers, too. Compelling brand-building is just as important for prospective employees as it is for customers.
So during the hiring process, give them something to sink their teeth into and make ‘em proud.
Your brand should clearly get across why working for your company is unique. Most strong employer brands want to be strong in all of the following areas, but you’ve got to really be exceptional in two or three. Pick those values and over-deliver on them so they become part of the core DNA of your company.
Which values are most important for your company? Is it the:
- challenging work?
- meritocratic nature of the organization?
- meaningful work?
- equity potential?
Of course, it all depends on the situation. Some industries naturally lend themselves to certain areas. For instance, at a research-driven company where cutting-edge science and tech are key—that core value should appeal to your workforce. In healthcare sectors, it’s more about the opportunity for service and the help the company provides to patients.
b). A focus on talent retention.
Here at TurnKey, whenever we pick a vendor or a partner to work with, we always ask how long their employees have worked at the company. This one metric of average tenure speaks (screams!) volumes about a company.
It’s no surprise that firms with low churn rates usually have a great product or service—not to mention a solid culture. Those with high churn rates suffer from low product quality, service disruptions, and a pathetic vibe.
So, be a leader in talent retention. Your annual churn rate will be like a report card for your efforts. It’s not enough to just recruit great talent, you have to keep them too. If you’re always starting at square one with talent, your startup will never be able to grow into a world-class company that scales..
Figure. It. Out. Now.
c). Standout messaging to candidates.
These days, great talent is like the stars of The Bachelorette—they can stand back and take their pick from a parade of hot options. To get them to listen to you (and remember you in a crowd) you have to get your messaging right. How is your company fundamentally different (and better)?
Focus on what makes your company unique, especially in comparison to all the other firms that are trying to compete for that individual’s attention. Infuse your job descriptions and your dialogue with that passionate messaging and you’ll hook the big fish.
What are the key steps to making your hiring plan actionable?
Here are the tried and true steps we’ve watched our high performing clients successfully strut:
- Ensure quality hiring is the top priority for each of your team leads. This has to come from the top. If the CEO prioritizes hiring, so will everyone else.
- Come up with a hiring decision process and mobilize it. Don’t let your plans get wrapped up in red tape or you’ll miss out on the best of the best. They’re going fast, you need to, too
- Have one decision maker. If the process is lean, it’s more agile. Give one trusted person the power to make the final decision (after collaborating and gathering feedback, of course).
- Link your recruiter to your decision maker. Whether your recruiter is internal or external, they need to understand what you’re looking for early and easily. Keep communication channels open and flowing between these two hustlers and your focus will stay clear.
- Outline what you need and stick to it. Assess candidates along a short, sweet, targeted list so you can align key traits up front and with ease. A few boxes to check are tech chops, relevant experience, interpersonal skills, and culture fit.
- Detail the interview process. Take every qualified candidate through the same efficient, quick funnel. Take too long and you’ll have candidates fall off during the process—a fat waste of time and energy for you and your team. Your competitors are fast and fighting for the same talent so get nimble.
- Ask your senior executive candidates to give you a 90-day plan. Ask them to show you what their first 90 days with your company will look like. What are you looking for from them? Communication. What will tell you the most? How they come up with their 90-day plan, who they ask to speak with, how they present to you, and how they anticipate, handle, and escalate challenges.
- Follow up on accepted offers right away. A great on-boarding process is one where the candidate has their expectations set and met from the beginning. Don’t lose the chance to make a strong first impression.
How can TurnKey help your startup with hiring?
We don’t wear your exact shoes, but we’ve got an identical pair in storage. We founded TurnKey after turning into disappointed and frustrated SaaS entrepreneurs who lived through all of the challenges listed in this article.
TurnKey is the solution. We’ll not only help you think through the “right” hiring plan for your startup, we’ll show you how to expertly execute against it.
Like Maverick, Hangman, and Phoenix (seriously, you have to bingewatch both Top Guns tonight), our good looks will only take us so far. So we’ve built out some other attractive aspects of our offering. Of those, one of the strongest is our custom recruiting capabilities.
With TurnKey, once you have a hiring plan in place, we go to work creating compelling job descriptions and filling in your blanks with candidates who are a snug company culture fit and a skills match for every open position.
So, how can TurnKey help your startup with your hiring process? It’s simple: TurnKey accelerates your speed to market by making your hiring seamless and simple. You have enough to worry about (oh hello, revenue), so let TurnKey make your life a little easier, at least on the hiring front.
Should you manage the hiring of a development team yourself or work with a partner?
Honestly, it depends. (Not really.)
Hiring well is just a question of time and effort—two things you’ve got loads of, right? As if. We both know that busy in-house recruiters are expert jugglers, which means they struggle to devote enough time to each position to find high quality candidates. That’s where outside recruiters can help lift the burden.
To do it right, you’ve got to publish a job post, spend some money on advertising to drive the right type of applicants, review each applicant’s resume in depth, schedule 15-30 minute initial screening calls, and THEN start to take the lead candidates through a robust interview process. This is a huge time suck once any organization has more than a few open positions. Again, this kicks the door open to let outside help in.
Not only can outside recruiters help with the time and effort needed to find the superstars, they have a gigantic constellation to search through for the shiniest and brightest of the bunch. This is especially enticing if you’re a smaller startup.
A good outside recruitment firm has a big database of people in various relevant places—that could mean hundreds (if not thousands) of qualified people they can ping in an instant. (What a relief, am I right?)
So the question is this—do you have the time and energy to manage this yourself? Be honest and say no. You’re better off partnering with an outside firm that can act as a reliable extension of your team.
Let them—and by them, we mean TurnKey—get this done efficiently for you while you prioritize all the super high-value tasks at hand. We do what we do best, and you end up looking like a genius.
Some final thoughts
Your hiring process and plan has to be tight, seamless, and consistent. It may vary depending on the size of your company, your company culture, and how robust your hiring plan needs to be, but no matter what, you need experts with time and effort to spare (along with an eagle eye for talent) to build your team.
Doing it yourself is possible, but not probable. Partner with a company like TurnKey who literally does this all day, every day, so you can get back to that voodoo that you do so well.
The first step is to lock in your budget and stick to it. The last thing you want is a bunch of people hired and no money to pay them. You need to hire to your budget, so you don’t end up overcommitted. Or, just call TurnKey and we’ll create it for you.
Once your budget is locked, start looking for talent. Prioritize finding the right people—ones who roll their sleeves up and consider themselves doers. Next, look for talent with a growth mindset; they’re curious, enthusiastic, and ready to contribute. Lastly, seek out those who will be a good culture fit. In a small barrel, one bad apple can poison them all.
Make sure your hiring plan has the three solid components. You need an attractive brand for employees—the people you hire need to love it just as much as your customers do. You need a laser focus on talent retention (don’t just reel them in, you gotta keep them there, too). And you need standout messaging. It’s a noisy recruiting field, so create a hiring message that resonates and delivers.