I joined Hook in February 2021 as the 3rd employee for the company and the first person in our operations team. Upon joining, it was immediately clear that the Hook culture and environment were significantly different from what I’d been used to.
My background is at an airline of 40,000 employees in teams of 50+ people. I’d worked with startups before testing new transport technologies and had built an e-commerce side hustle from scratch but neither of these experiences involved the same challenges as those that Hook, as an early stage fast-growing SaaS startup, needed solving.
The first major challenge that our CEO Firaas asked me to take on was to build a scalable hiring process that matched the collaborative and ambitious culture of our early employees.
Firaas had a clear vision of the type of people we wanted to hire: people with ambition and those that worked well in part of teams. I knew that respect was something important, as well as people willing to take the risk in joining such an early stage company. And finally, one trait which was evident in our earliest team was unexpected and unique: entrepreneurialism.
The challenge was how to translate these soft behaviours into a consistent and scalable process — something which would allow Hook to scale whilst keeping the deep identity and culture that was important to us.
I’d worked with startups before testing new transport technologies and had built an e-commerce side hustle from scratch but neither of these experiences involved the same challenges as those that Hook, as an early stage fast-growing SaaS startup, needed solving.
Searching for ambition and finding entrepreneurs
As a member of the Millenial/Gen- Z workforce myself, I see first hand how many of my peers see and value work today- in that it’s simply not enough to have a single job, cause or source of income anymore.
This meant that when searching for Hook ‘culture fit’, I found plenty of candidate profiles with experience in building businesses, working in charities or other admirable achievements — but I quickly realised (through our screening process) that they weren’t necessarily illustrative of the ability to thrive in a high-risk environment or the need to own a new, unsolved problem.
More subtle examples that ‘clearly favour adventure and learning over convention and minimisation of risk’ (source: Harvard Business Review) are where I went looking instead. For example, I found that searching for the below profile features boded well for subsequent interview processes:
- Moving from a big company to a small one (many of our current team!)
- Starting a side hustle from scratch (e.g. Michela, our product designer, authored her own cookbook)
- Self taught skills or languages (e.g. Evgeniya, our first software engineer, taught herself how to code)
- Setting up a club or society from scratch
- Moving or studying abroad (e.g. Eloise, our operations associate, taught herself Italian and moved to work in Rome for 2 years)
This was where we began looking for the special people that would be part of Hook’s earliest days in its ambitious mission.
As a member of the Millenial/Gen- Z workforce myself, I’ve seen first hand how many of my peers see and value work today — in that it’s simply not enough to have a single job, cause or source of income anymore.
Focusing on teamwork
Our earliest team not only enjoyed the uncertainty of an early stage startup but they also sought to challenge and be challenged — both of which are elements of a great team player. When we disagreed as a team about decisions relating to our product, we were able to have effective and direct discussions but move on quickly. It meant we spent little time debating and were able to make radical progress such as shipping our first product to our first customers within 5 months.
Interestingly, almost all external literature focuses on an entrepreneur’s ability to lead teams/ projects but tends to reflect poorly on their ability to collaborate. HBR even goes as far as to suggest that hiring a series of entrepreneurial employees “will often not play out well in organisations that…need porous boundaries between working groups, or require high levels of collaboration.”.
Focusing therefore on motivation to work within teams became crucial to how we hired. Asking fact- based questions that focus on collaborative skills within a team unit and favouring team success over personal gain was key.
Our earliest team… sought to challenge and be challenged — both of which are elements of a great team player.
Thinking about scale
As we grow, we’ve been thinking deeper about how we scale. We’ve grown to 14 people in a few months from a standing start, and have our first few customers using Hook. But the challenge ahead of us is doubling down on growth and this presents two areas we’re focusing on:
(1) Identifying ambition:
Early in the hiring process, I found it incredibly useful to focus on identifying a candidate’s key source of drive early on- be it leading teams, creating new features, launching new code, guest speaking on behalf of the company etc. As we scale, identifying and nurturing ambition is even more important as we can then try to build a learning and development structure around them. Offering up development opportunities and maintaining transparency will help to ensure ambition is both acknowledged and rewarded as we grow.
We’ve made the first step in this journey already. We recently surveyed all Hook employees on our current benefits package to see how we could improve our offering. A learning & development budget was met with strong interest therefore, as of next month, we will be introducing a completely flexible annual L&D budget for every current and future employee.
When leaving the office one day, Merilin, our first operations intern, turned to me and said ‘I never know what to expect when coming into work each day’. Turns out that on that day she had been:
- Analysing the results of our metrics survey in excel
- Sourcing 30 new job role candidates on LinkedIn
- Writing a key internal agenda for our operations roadmap
- Participating in the ‘Vinyasa flow’ yoga class at our office co-working space
As we grow it will be more tempting to structure teams solely on job role and for people to grow within those areas specifically. However, in order for us to continue to appeal to entrepreneurs (such as Merilin and our current team), maintaining this level of creative autonomy day-to-day makes a big difference.
For example, I could see ourselves introducing more opportunities for employees to pitch in on other business areas and pursue these ideas. We’ve started testing this with our Q3 team day activity which will challenge everyone to work on a set of problems outside of their key business area.
These actions don’t replace the draw of a pre-product startup (and they probably never will) but I would hope that they help to encourage entrepreneurial behaviours throughout the growth journey…and more importantly, encourage everyone at Hook to think creatively and innovate when operating at true scale.
P.S If you feel like we’ve described you in this blogpost and you’re looking for an ambitious, team oriented workplace… then get in touch! We’re hiring ! 🤩