It’s no secret that the London startup ecosystem is booming. It’s incredible to see it from the vantage point of Campus – new startups are created every day, and the slightly more mature international startups from the US and the rest of Europe are pouring in. A friend was asking for advice on how to recruit a local MD for a growing startup, so I thought I’d share some pointers. Some of the advice is specific to London, but with a bit of research, I’m sure you can find your local equivalent.
First step: Finding the right person
Finding the talent is a common challenge for startups. There’s usually no HR department to sort through resumes, and the founders have to take care of product, fundraising, PR, leadership and so on simultaneously. So, where are the country manager candidates?
- Business Schools and Universities – Career services departments are waiting eagerly for openings of these type. Find the best schools in your area, locate the career services email and send them a job description. They will usually email back with a pile of CVs, and there may be a gem in there.
- Startup job boards – Campus London, for example, has a free and popular job board. To post an opportunity all you have to do is create an entry at www.campuslondon.com/jobs. There are several other job boards for startup roles:
- https://angel.co/jobs (US-centric) or angel.co/talent
- Local flavors: http://berlinstartupjobs.com/ | http://www.dutchstartupjobs.com/ | http://ukstartupjobs.com/
- LinkedIn – is more successful as a recruiting platform than it is a social network. A large percentage of the talent you’re looking for is on LinkedIn already.
- Facebook – no need to use ads to find candidates. Simply join a relevant group (London startup jobs, Israeli startups anywhere, etc) and you’ll find hundreds of people who are waiting for opportunities.
- The full service way (Recruiters)- in the UK there’s a number of recruiting companies that specialize in staffing for startup roles. The UP Group is one of them. A simple Google search and you’ll find many others. For international startups coming into the UK, London and Partners offers some free services and advice for companies which are looking to enter the UK market. Recruiters aren’t cheap, and may charge the employer a fee of 10-30% of the annual salary of the candidate.
- Most countries have agencies that are responsible for FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and trade. In the UK, there’s UKTI, and they have offices around the world. Find your local equivalent – they can be very helpful sometimes.
- Meetups/Events Sponsorship – I really like this approach as it not only helps the startup find a person, but it helps the community get together. Sponsor a meetup or a Startup Weekend by paying for the Pizza and beer, and get the word out there on the people you’re looking for. This is more effective when looking for technical hires, as you could target more technical meetups (Ruby, Php, Cloud, big data, etc). Timely opportunity – we are looking for sponsors for Techbikers – great opportunity to get involved, email me if interested.
- Poaching from other companies – some of the best talent is laying “dormant” in bigger tech companies or more mature startups. For the right opportunity, they will make the jump. The country manager candidates are likely to be in the partnerships/biz dev divisions, corp dev or sales. It’s rare that a startup has a technical person in a satellite office, unless they are there to support the sales process. A discrete direct message on LinkedIn or intro from a friend could do the trick.
- Advertising – if your coffers are full, consider an advertising campaign to raise awareness to the fact that you’re looking to open an office in another country. Adwords or Display ads (+ re targeting) can be an efficient way to get lots of impressions, and the perfect candidate may be the one clicking. This is a good way to source a bunch of CVs at once.
- Ask your VC for help – recruiting is one of the areas where ‘smart money’ can be helpful. VCs can usually tap into a pool of talent from their network, which could be a good fit for your startup. I’ve seen cases where this exploded, so chimestry is key from the get go here. Paul Kedroski tweeted this yesterday:
I should be a recruiter. Spending nearly half my time finding/interviewing people for portfolio companies. /cc @defrag
— Paul Kedrosky (@pkedrosky) August 12, 2013
- Acqui-hire another startup – this technique was perfected by Groupon when they were in hyper-growth mode – to launch a new country, simply buy a bootstrapped local competitor and grow your army. You need some deep pockets for this, but it’s a quick way to grow into new markets. Think app developers and plugin builders.
Next step: Once you find the person, how do you convince them to join you?
Congratulations! you found the perfect candidate to open the new market for your startup. But will they take it? My recommendation, treat your country manager like a partner, not an employee. Equity grants, options and ownership are key. If she was recruited for just a salary, she would easily be tempted by a higher offer when presented with it. This is true for all the employees of the startup. The right offer would have a component of equity, salary and bonus, with incentives built in for achieving milestones. In the case of a single hire, the candidate will have to either recruit a team or pay for services externally, so operational budget and an understanding of their level of autonomy is important at this stage. Share your vision and light a fire in them. They need to feel the passion if you want them to carry on in the hard times. Have the candidate meet the rest of the team. Ideally in person, but at a minimum via hangout/skype.
How you protect yourself as the employer?
The equity should be given in tranches. The typical vesting period is 4 years, with options vesting quarterly or annually. VCs will typically include “good leaver, bad leaver” closes in their term sheet – this could also be applied for the new country managers. An employee that leaves the company in “bad leaver” circumstances (i.e. got fired due to fraud, etc) will likely see his or her equity stripped back to the startup. Avoid Trial periods – talented employees who are considering to leave positions at Apple or Facebook, take enough risk by moving to a startup. A ‘trial period’ may give them cold feet all together. It’s better to agree on milestones and review the performance, than put ultimatums.
I encourage startups to think big and go international as soon as the product is ready to address a global market. Translation services are commoditized, and there may be demand for your product elsewhere. If you decide to expand, have an element of opportunism and organic growth, but do create a strategy for global expansion. Which markets will you enter first?