Why the first ten hires are vital for a scaling tech business

12 April 2021

Steve Jobs once said, “when you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not.”

While it seems like a lot of pressure to rest the company’s success on ten individuals, we can’t deny that these people will have the most impact and influence. In the early stages of growth, it’s the people that drive your business forward with their ideas, dedication, and talents. These initial hires also influence your employer brand for years to come. The fact is, when you make your first few hires, they set the standard for the rest of your recruitment. So really, the first ten hires impact the first hundred.

As an RPO provider specialising in helping tech startups to scale, we know that the first ten hires are not only the most influential for a scaling business but also the hardest to get right.

Here’s why your first ten hires are so vital and our tips for getting them right.

Impact culture

One of the most enticing factors about scaling businesses for candidates is the culture. Unlike more prominent, more corporate counterparts, tech startups and scaleups can benefit from a more laid-back and flexible working attitude. We don’t just mean remote working or flexible hours, which many businesses are now expected to offer, but rather a relaxed attitude and environment to work in. For many candidates, this is an attractive prospect.

The people you hire first will set the tone for this culture. If you want a friendly and open place to work, these are the individuals you need to be on the lookout for, rather than people with a tendency to micromanage or prefer a more corporate, strict atmosphere. Make sure you choose the individuals carefully, as their character will impact your future hires.

Tip: The secret to this lies in conversation, take some time to get to know the candidates and have honest conversations with them. Technology can’t help you understand someone’s personality, and it can’t set the tone for your company culture. While recruitment processes are becoming more reliant on AI and automation, the human element is vital, especially for such influential hires.

Influence diversity

One of the biggest challenges for startups and scaleups is hiring beyond your initial network of university associates, previous colleagues, or even friends. Think about whether each hire is intended to complement or supplement the CEO. If they’re just looking for a quick hire to minimise their workload, relying on personal connections may be fine. However, other times reaching out to a broader talent pool is often necessary to complement the founders’ skill set, providing the skills and ideas they don’t have and opening up opportunities.

 Businesses leaders who rely on their networks for their first ten hires often find they’re hiring very similar and like-minded people, impacting business success. If you’re hiring ten individuals from the same university, who studied at the same course, you’re likely to fall into the trap of groupthink, and you won’t benefit from a diverse range of opinions. Your vision for the business will be restricted by similar personal experience and viewpoints. Plus, you may deter a more varied range of candidate from applying in the future. Your first ten hires should represent a range of people and backgrounds to give your scaleup the best chance of success in the business world and for your employer brand.

Tip: To look beyond your network, you should consider collaborating with a recruitment partner or using paid media campaigns to advertise the positions to a targeted audience. External recruiters can see where diversity is needed. They have a more comprehensive network of candidates and tactics to help extend your talent pool, especially when it comes to executive hiring. Plus, you can cast your net even wider with digital talent attraction, targeting candidates with relevant skills and experience.

Inspire and innovate

The first ten hires will be the ones who grow and develop your scaleup, which means they must inspire and innovate. It would help if you looked for people who share a vision, are passionate, and think creatively to take your business to the next level. These will be the people who inspire your future team and will (hopefully) make your business stand above the competition. You need to look for leadership qualities and creative thinkers, people with the drive to work hard but can set you apart.

Your business may not be the wildest and disruptive, but you can still make an impact in your space if you hire people who have individual creativity and drive. If your competitors were doing exactly the same as you, then your startup wouldn’t be necessary. Look for people who can not only recognise your points of difference but find new ways to expand on them or market them. Recruiting ‘tick-box talent’ based on algorithms is a sure-fire way to miss the diamonds in the rough. Instead, it would help if you were prepared to broaden your search.

Tip: Don’t limit yourself to hiring people from your own industry. If you’re looking to disrupt the space, then you need someone with a fresh mindset and new ideas. Of course, sector experience for some roles could be invaluable, but by limiting your talent pool to these individuals, you could be missing out on game-changing ideas. Look for skills that can be transferable in any industry and look instead for the impact they’ve made.

Attitude over experience

Remember, skills and knowledge can be taught. Attitude cannot. Scaleups can be guilty of searching for the most experienced, knowledgeable individuals to bring their business to the next level and look for executives that have been working for some of the biggest names. However, joining a relatively new company comes with risks for candidates and more often than not, you can’t compete with the big players in tech when it comes to salary and benefits. This is why it’s better to prioritise attitude.

 In a scaleup business, it’s drive and determination, which are most important. You need to hire people who are excited about your proposition and want to take it further. A job at a scaleup is more than just a 9-5. It’s a chance to build something exciting and can mean a lot of extra work. Attitude and passion cannot be taught, but they can be invaluable to a growing company.

Tip: Think beyond your idea of the perfect candidate. Of course, you want someone with an abundance of experience growing a business or a large range of tech skills and experience, but in this current climate, they’re going to be particularly hard to source. You must accept that experienced individuals in new areas of tech often don’t exist, and the most senior skilled people are comfortable working for large scale companies. Instead, be flexible with the skills and experience you consider essential and find people who have a willingness to learn. You’ll know from the application and interview process whether they’re dedicated.

The first ten hires will set the tone for your scaling business. These individuals will become your leaders and will take the business from scaleup to standout in your industry. Not only will they influence your future recruitment efforts, but the overall future of your business which is why they are the most crucial hires you will ever make.

If you’d like expert advice on finding the right talent to grow your company, Talent Works is an RPO provider specialising in helping tech businesses scale. Our sourcing team can help you to reach a wider pool of talent and find the right people, whether they’re executive hires or technical talent. Plus, with in-house creative, digital and insight teams, we can deliver strategic and innovative recruitment marketing or employer brand awareness campaigns to help you become an employer of choice.

To find out more about our agile talent acquisition model and flexible approach to tech RPO, contact our team today.

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