How to hire amazing people for your startup

Jeff Bezos famously said in his 1998 Shareholder’s report that people (not strategy or vision) was the most important component to Amazon’s success:

“It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people… Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

Started with 3 people in a garage, Amazon now employs over 150,000 people and is the envy of most aspiring startups.

Regardless of where your company is today, if you want to take your company to the next level, you need to hire amazing people that will help you get there.

These people will all have different backgrounds, experiences, and education, but they must:

  1. Be highly intelligent, adaptable, and scrappy
  2. Raise the average effectiveness of the group they join (every hire should raise the bar of the company)
  3. Be fun to have a beer with (nobody wants to work with an asshole)

The problem is that anybody that fits the criteria above is usually either building their own empire or already working making them extremely hard to recruit.

It’s why companies like Google and FaceBook are acqui-hiring companies for millions of dollars and giving engineers $100k signing bonuses.

So how do you, as a scrappy startup, compete?

Offer something these companies can’t.

A low risk chance to build something amazing. Autonomously.

The best players don’t want to join a “B” squad. They love to surround themselves with people better than themselves. They thrive on growth — not a paycheck. Give that to them.

So how do you find these amazing people?

Here are the four best ways to begin your search:

  1. Poaching from other companies you respect

Visit the about pages of companies you admire and email people already doing the job you’re looking to hire.

Look for candidates that have been in role for ~3 years (4–5 for more senior roles) as those new to role are less likely to burn bridges.

These candidates are also excellent sources for recommendations.

2. Hire underdeveloped talent

The top 3 tech companies right now are Google, FaceBook, and Microsoft. The average age of their founders was 24 years old.

If you could’ve hired Bill Gates at 19 years old, how powerful would your company be?

Don’t neglect your local university. Find the top clubs and associations on campus and recruit their members to join your company.

Any member can easily post your position to their FaceBook group or email server.

You will end up with tons of very smart, scrappy, and inexpensive local talent using this method.

3. Ask your existing network.

Ask your employees, friends, and family “Who is the smartest person you know.” Get their email and shoot them a quick message saying:

“Our mutual friend Ayman said you were the smartest person he knows. I’m building an amazing product (website) and looking to hire our first VP of Marketing.

We’ve already grown from 1k/month to 30k/month in less than one year and need someone with fresh ideas to take us to the next level.

Interested?”

This non-commital email does three things:

It compliments them endearing them to you.

Explains what your company does and how fast you’re growing thus eliminating their fear of joining a risky venture (contrary to popular belief, the best people are risk adverse).

And most importantly shows them they will be able to work autonomously — something smart people crave.

You’ll also notice I didn’t ask to jump on a call. When you’re still prospecting, keep everything via email. Calls are exhausting and you want to save your energy for candidates you have pre-qualified (next section).

You’ll also notice I didn’t mention any job board sites. Use these at your own discretion. Some (like Angelist or Hired) are great. Others, a waste of your energy.

Also, a big mistake is choosing skills instead of people. Your company is in constant flux. If you hire a PPC marketer and find out that channel doesn’t work for your company, will the person you hired be adaptable enough to find the next best marketing channel?

Once you’ve boiled the ocean, you should have had at least 25 interested candidates in your position, narrow it down to your top 5 candidates.

Hop on a video call with them. Video let’s you see their mannerisms and how they present themselves.

You are looking for 4 things in the interview:

  1. Scrappiness — have they overcomed obstacles in the past?
  2. Intelligence — you want them to be smarter than you.
  3. Culture Fit — would you invite them to hang out on the weekends
  4. Conscientiousness — the dark horse trait. This was recently determined to be the number one quality of future leaders.

If they have those four qualities and have demonstrated their ability to do the job (either via test or consulting trial), you must now sell them on the company.

Like dating, any attractive candidate has dozens of potential opportunities.

You must show why you are the best over everyone else.

This is Sales 101.

If you’re not good at it, bring in someone from your team who is.

The worst thing you can do is investing all of your time finding, interviewing, and offering someone a job offer, only for them to reject your proposal.

Here’s how to ensure they accept your offer with 90% confidence:

  1. Determine what is important to the candidate

Early in the interview process, you should find out why they joined the last company, what attracted them to the position, and what they are looking for in their next opportunity.

Let’s pretend your candidate — Jessica, is looking to grow her network, learn PPC marketing, and join a fun team.

During your explanations of the role and company — you MUST layer in stories that demonstrate what Jessica is looking for. These stories will show Jessica that you are the right fit better than any one-liner you could think of.

Showing Jessica photos or your team’s camping trip over the weekend is way better than saying your team has a killer company culture.

2. Demonstrate a level of excellence

What was the last shitty company you joined? Probably never.

Top candidates don’t join shitty companies. You must show Jessica why your company hires only the best, is looking to be the best, and needs people to help them become the best.

This is demonstrated in everything from audio quality on the Video call, your challenging yet insightful questions, and how you talk about the company.

You don’t have to show up in a suit on your video call, but acting like your company is destined for greatness is a great attractor of talent.

3. Lastly, sell them on the actual role

Nobody wants a stepping stone role. Sell them on why the job is important to the company’s success (I wish I had this role at your age), talk about how smart and awesome the team is, and most importantly talk up the boss (could be you).

Everyone wants to do meaningful work for a smart team with a mentor for a boss.

Make sure that is clearly demonstrated in the interview.

Once you’ve nailed your pitch and have them salivating about the position, closing the specifics (salary, benefits, location) should be a simple numbers game.

Remember, hiring is like dating. You should have multiple candidates interested in any given role. This will make any offer you give out seem genuine instead of needy.

Make it clear to them you have other candidates interested in the role. State that they are your favorite, but you do have other (equally impressive) candidates on the hook.

Give them a deadline to make a decision (one week is fair), so you can be respectful of the other candidate’s time.

This lets them know your position is in demand and an amazing opportunity.

Do all these things and you will end up with a team of incredible high-performers.

Anything I missed?

Comment below with your killer hiring tips.

Reading List:

Sivers — How To Hire a Programmer

Graham — Hiring is obsolete

Freedman — Consider this a job offer

Haden — Don’t hire these candidates

Norton — How to hire a product manager

Google’s most scientific hiring formula

NY Times — No Stats All Star

Bezos — 3 Hiring Questions To Ask Every Candidate

Cancel — The best hiring traits to look for

Yasin — How to eliminate bad tech hires