Having the "right team" in place is often cited as a critical success factor for founders who want to grow faster. But, successful founders know that the "right team" also changes as you grow.
Early stage start-ups have it easy in many ways. After patching together a minimum viable product with help from friends and freelancers, they can start offering that product to potential customers. If they’re focused, the co-founders are spending most of their time acquiring initial customers and figuring out what those customers actually want.
But, all of a sudden revenue starts flowing, funding comes through, and it’s time to start building out teams to power growth. That's where great founders start thinking about 2 often overlooked factors that can greatly impact their ability to get the right team in place: the when and the where of hiring for growth.
Great Founders Pay Attention to When It’s Time To Hire
"When" is not necessarily time-based. For some start-ups, they need a certain type of person within 3 months. For others, they don't need that same person until 3 years in. Understanding where you are in your startup's lifecycle is critical in making the right types of hiring decisions. The way to do that is by looking at triggers that are unique to your company.
For example, some of these triggers may be hitting a customer acquisition milestone, completed a funding round, or reaching a certain point in your operations where a specific role suddenly makes sense.
Gain Customer Traction Before Bringing on High Level People
For Will Fan, the Australian CEO of Singapore-based QLC.io, it was customers and revenue that triggered some significant hiring decisions. In the early days, he and his co-founder - both non-technical - decided that instead of bringing on a heavy hitting technology co-founder right off the bat, they wanted to build out their product to a certain point first. They made a conscious decision to build a business that was "customer first" vs. "technology first."
They also realized that to attract a really great technology lead, they needed to show significant traction. Fan says, "Based on my experience with a previous startup, it's often hard to convince a technology guy to join you, so what we had to do was put together a hacked together version of our platform, get traction in the beginning, and once we had a few thousands users, we were able to convince a full time CTO to join our team."
By the time they were ready to bring on a CTO, they already had their processes mapped out, revenue in the bank, and were ready for scale.
Use Headcount as a Way to Gauge Fit
Carrie Simonds explains how game developer Pocket Gem looked at the types of hires needed based on the company's overall headcount size. She writes in How to Recruit and Hire the Team You Need at Each Phase of Startup Growth: "The ideal employee for a 3-person unfunded incubation may not be the best fit for a 50-person company looking to expand overseas." The company's growing number of employees meant that roles became more and more specialized, bringing on more expertise in areas relevant to growth.
Great Founders Think Differently About Location
Hiring remote employees was barely possible as recently as 10 years ago, and even with powerful internet infrastructure in place, still many companies don't ask themselves this simple question: "do I need someone physically here in my office every day?"
According to Oxford Economics report Global Talent 2021, companies will need to think more broadly about how and where talent is sourced: "HR executives will need to recruit for talent in new and sometimes unexpected geographies, as talent surpluses develop in some fast-growing markets while mature markets face talent deficits."
Global Talent 2021 Heat Map, showing talent surpluses in some countries, and talent deficits in others
For those that do rethink where they get talent, the benefits can be significant - and it’s not just about cost savings, but also about accessing more talent than what can be found locally.
Go All the Way: Completely Remote
Fox Cub Games, a San Francisco-based gaming start-up, is 100% dispersed - meaning, all of their 30 employees work from 12 different countries, all remotely.
According to CEO Ian Wang:
At first we were excited about the cost advantages of hiring globally. We did realize significant cost savings, but we were astonished to find that we had hired exceptional talent, often better than what we could find in San Francisco. We weren't at a talent disadvantage compared to companies that hired in technology hubs, primarily because we're able to tap a much larger talent pool.
They've also put time and grunt work into understanding one of the main concerns companies have with hiring remotely: communication. According to Wang: "The revelation we've had is that the communication issue is easier to solve if the whole team is remote, because everyone feels the same pains, and are all invested in finding solutions and sticking to them."
A Mixed Approach: Complement the Home Team with Remote Hires
But not all companies can go completely remote. For many, it is a hybrid of local and remote talent, often with remote employees coming in at later stages of growth. Silicon Valley-based Bunchball's Vice President of Product Joe Fisher says that in order to make remote expansion work, its a good idea to start with a strong base of employees to build around. Bunchball has most of its 70 employees in California, but expanded out to Iowa when they found good talent there.
Hiring for growth means understanding your needs in the context of where your business is at, and where it is going. Hire too soon, and you may end up with people too senior for your current stage of growth; limit your hiring locally, and you could stifle growth. Great founders recognize these 2 factors that are at play, and use them to their advantage.