Inside Out: From in-house to ‘agency’

From Yammer/Microsoft to TransferWise to now, Fincruit. What challenges I noticed when hiring in masses, the battle with retention and the reason why it was time to change from in-house to agency.

I ❤ startups

Flashback to July 2014, a memorable moment created. A reminder that work didn’t have to be mundane, boring or predictable. You could create your own challenges, set your own pace and be part of a change that would impact the world forever. Oh, and have a little fun while you’re at it ;).

Having tasted the good stuff of startups very early on, it became pretty addictive, a perfect match for me. Literally, spot on. An environment where chaos was the norm, not always having a plan but an idea was enough to get started. Working until crazy o’clock became a way of life because we all knew that if we didn’t, someone elsewhere would.

The cherry on top will always be working alongside incredible beings that eat, sleep and breathe winning; are champions of change and fearless of the unknown.

The vast amount of learning that takes place in a startup is truly mind blowing. Just imagine that you could navigate your way into three different roles in less than a year of joining. This is just a glimpse of how quickly things can move.

For me, the perks bring it altogether. Whether it’s the first time trying moose meat (surprisingly tasty), to partying on a moving boat or chucking yourself on a ginormous swing hoping you’d make it off alive (also known as ‘Kiiking’), adventure became a ritual.

So, what now? After some years on this insane ride of solid fun, it felt like a rollercoaster of change where I was picking up new learning and making great friendships along the way, but it was time to hit the breaks. I wanted to now focus on developing people to become a better version of themselves whilst working at these awesome companies. All the experience, knowledge and insight had set me up for an even bigger challenge.

What I discovered

In the startup world, we really do take our time to carefully handpick the ideal person to join our teams because we value their buy-in. If the companies’ missions, values, and culture weren’t in sync with the candidate, it was an instant ‘no hire’. These three key things underpinned how to identify awesomeness.

In some cases, it could take up to six months to eventually find ‘the one’. This included exhausting referrals, investing in an in-house team, hosting events to relying on agencies you reluctantly worked with.

Hyper-growth hiring challenges

We were trying to grow in numbers, very quickly and aggressively, only unicorns, all of which (in the words of most Hiring Managers) should’ve started yesterday!

Yet, we were coming across a handful of bottlenecks that were slowing us down:

  • Lots of interview steps cost us time and made scheduling a huge challenge which in-turn caused great candidates to slip through the net
  • At times, we were not entirely sure of the profile we were hiring for, but knew we’d recognise it once we saw it. This meant we were interviewing a lot more people than we probably needed to.
  • There was a slow turnaround in getting feedback from interviewers to pass on to the candidate due to a lack of structure in the way we tracked feedback
  • There were too many decision-makers involved in the final outcome on whether we should hire or not

Finding your feet in the midst of chaos

Once onboarded, I noticed how it was possible to sway in different directions without checking in with yourself to see if you’re on track with what you personally want to get from this experience. You could move into roles that would either propel you or distract you.

I admired how passionate and motivated people wanted to do well, have an impact and be part of a powerful movement. I mean these are the type of profiles that excel at startups right?

Yet, why do not all of them last? Naturally, people progress on to new opportunities or max out their learning and so on. But what about those that still have more to give but are burning out right before the finish line? Was it due to an unstructured on-boarding, lack of training, not enough investment in personal development or other factors? I saw many people wrap up long before their time, which was turning into a pattern that I wanted to try and change.

How do we move from sprinters to keepers?

I’ll admit that’s a big question to answer. Although, I’m beginning to discover through my training as a Performance Coach that by gaining an understanding into an individual’s personality, behaviour and strengths, we can start to close the gap between what they do for a living and who they are as a person. We can hone in on their soft skills and leverage their interests to enable them to accelerate, grow and out-perform not just at work but every facet of their lives.

How do we create an environment where employees can continuously perform well while staying in-tune with their own personal pursuits?

As mentioned earlier, we spend a lot time exhausting different hiring avenues and going through vigorous interviews, yet all the effort spent finding and getting a new hire in place doesn’t seem to be enough to sustain them. We hire for keepers, not just sprinters.

A few ways we can try to improve this:

  • Put in place a loose framework to structure interviews and techniques
  • Use psychometric tests to understand an individual’s behaviour and capabilities
  • Implement a tight-knit on-boarding process
  • Train and coach individuals/teams

By adopting the above early on, we could unlock an individual’s potential and instill valuable skills that will benefit both sides in the long run. Whether someone wants to get better at public speaking or build up their confidence, we should be able to support these personal developments without assuming these geniuses already have the know-how.

What I’m learning

There’s something really cool about working for awesome brands, but there’s something even more intriguing about knowing how an awesome brand works.

The thought of working with an agency didn’t come naturally as I could give you endless reasons why you should dodge that bullet. I’ve found some to be transactional, aggressive in their approach, lack empathy, and have no real sense of awareness/understanding of what type of profiles fit in well at startups.

With that being said, some companies still depend on them. Whether we’re short on internal resources, have a niche role to fill or up against the clock to hire quickly, they contribute to a percentage of our hiring efforts. But this doesn’t take away from the disconnect that is unavoidable when you’re unable to immerse into a company’s brand, culture, values and so on because you’re recruiting from a distance (hence why many agency recruiters move in-house to experience that connection).

My approach is a little different coming from inside out. I find I’m able to connect and speak the same language that is used internally to help agencies build a better rapport with Hiring Managers/recruiters, which is probably the biggest reason why most startups prefer not to work with them.

In partnering with the talent consultancy Fincruit, we’re bringing together our qualities of in-house and agency recruitment to eliminate the frustrations and pain-points startups experience by creating a platform that supports them with finding and keeping the talent they hire.

With our HQ in Bogotá, Colombia we’re collaborating with the local Bogotanos to build a community that provides an end-to-end service to disruptive FinTech companies around the globe and creating a new start for people with purpose.


My biggest takeaway from being in-house is noticing how much attention hiring gets in comparison to people development, which tends to be an afterthought. Teams like HR/People, L&D seem to be put in place much further down the line, which consequently has a knock-on effect on people’s performance because they’re expected to find their own way without much guidance. Since startups love autonomy, a different approach could be to introduce performance coaching which I think will enable people to become more productive and effective a lot quicker and most likely stay for the long haul.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Maybe you can also relate in one way or another and have your own experiences that you can share. Feel free to connect with me or leave a comment as I’d love to hear them :).