How We Went From Knowing Nothing About Hiring to 300 Screened Profiles & 3 Recruits In 3 Weeks.
By Firmin Zocchetto (CEO of PayFit) & Laetitia Vitaud (Writer)
PayFit is the best solution to manage your payroll automatically. Currently operating in France, in beta.
“This is the first post we publish from one of our founders. Their time being precious and their talent obviously better spent on learning and executing rather than figuring out how to write an insightful piece, we’re glad they can work with professional writers like Laetitia :)”
We were a team at school long before we started PayFit. We knew then that we wanted to work together and launch something spectacular. We just needed a tough and exciting project to work on. So we decided we would design a seamless experience out of something extremely complex — payroll. After working on it for a couple of months, we found we needed to recruit a larger team.
But how do you attract the best and brightest when you’ve never recruited before?
We had four major intuitions:
- The technical difficulty inherent to what we are building is what is most appealing to the best engineers — the knottier the problem, the better! And there are few projects that are technically more challenging than ours: PayFit is creating an architecture, a product and a language to translate the labyrinthine complexity of French payroll into a well-designed application everyone can use.
- The three of us together already had a culture and a mission with PayFit. We would have to do the recruiting ourselves and not delegate the task to someone not involved with the product. We would network and spread our passion to source the best fits. NOTHING is more important than the talents you hire: not only do they have to be outstanding, they also have to share the vision.
- We would have to be creative and completely agnostic as to how we would approach the hunt. When you know nothing about recruiting you can have a healthy whatever-works approach to doing it.
- We would have to be ALWAYS recruiting and hiring. Because the hiring process is a lengthy one, there is no way you can hire fast enough when you grow fast. Hiring can’t be scaled. (Read Laszlo Bock’s story of how Google handled hiring at the beginning. In Work Rules, he compared hiring to “finding needles in a very big haystack”).
So we rapidly dedicated a vast amount of our limited time to meeting candidates, which is far from obvious for founders who want nothing more than to be able to focus on nothing else but developing the best product ever. We also used a very good book, Who: The A Method for Hiring, by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, that provides a method to hire “A Players” — those who have more than a 90 percent chance of achieving what only the top 10 percent can achieve. Key lessons from the book include: that you should source candidates even before you need them and always have a pipeline of A Players waiting, that referrals from your networks are usually excellent sources, that structured interviews are the best way to get rid of useless biases and that selling your company is part of the hiring job!
How to find needles in a haystack
To find needles in a haystack we decided we needed to see LOTS of candidates and develop a MASSIVE operation that combines different approaches to sourcing and generating a funnel. We scanned a great number of networks — LinkedIn, AngelList, Quora, Slack, Twitter, Facebook, university yearbooks, Breaz.io, Talent.io — , for broadly relevant profiles with a low-filter approach, sending hundreds and hundreds of emails and other messages to reach out to them. Most filters are generally irrelevant: just because you can sell yourself on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you can code! We also wanted to find needles in different haystacks as we needed both experienced full stack engineers and payroll experts.
Ghislain interviewed EACH AND EVERY ONE of the engineers who responded to PayFit’s invitation (1), even when their profile and CV didn’t seem attractive. Within three weeks Ghislain had interviewed roughly sixty people on the phone and learnt a lot about how to best proceed. He learnt to pitch the PayFit project in the most appealing way — there is no better exercice than to practice your pitch 60 times in 3 weeks — , he learnt what mattered most to the candidates and how to seduce them.
Here’s what he found: the best developers don’t want to just execute: they need a sense of ownership on the product and the project as a whole; they get excited at the mention of the newest technologies and the toughest challenges; they like the idea of being there at the beginning of the adventure if they find the core team credible enough. Last but not least we told them we were ready to pay competitive wages.
Collegial but flexible
The entire team met the candidates in an informal way to make sure the candidates weren’t only smart but would also be great cultural fits. We want every hiring decision to be made collegially because you can’t afford to rush a hiring decision or take a marginal candidate just to “fill” a position. Particularly at the beginning of a startup’s life, it’s too expensive and time-consuming to get rid of a mediocre performer. It’s best to make sure you get it right from the start. A mismatch at this stage could even cause the startup to crash early.
We recruited our first developer in a way we hadn’t anticipated: on Slack! Ghislain started chatting with Emmanuel on Slack when he was still working for a startup in Nantes, Brittany, and had no intention of moving to Paris. They became friends. Ghislain told him about all his recruiting interviews and asked Emmanuel for advice and ideas on how to recruit the best. The precious advice and insight he provided further convinced Ghislain that he wanted to work with Emmanuel, so he insisted some more and offered his new friend to come to Paris for three days to meet the team and have a closer look at what we were doing… Emmanuel eventually dropped his startup and accepted to work full-time for PayFit and spend three days a week in Paris, using Slack as the number one collaboration tool when in Nantes.
The concession we made to get the best fit for the job was to offer him the autonomy and freedom to work partly from home. So far PayFit has already successfully hired two experienced full-stack engineers, one payroll expert and a support expert who knows about HR software. Two were offered to work largely from home.
The competitive advantage of startups could very well be their ability to get the best talents by 1. being agnostic as to where they come from and how to find them ; 2. being open-minded as to how they will contribute to the team.
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(1) Here is the intro we used to reach out the profiles we had screened. Super efficient, but can certainly be improved :)
Subject: Getting in touch
We just raised a round of [$$$] and we’re looking for a fullstack JS engineer. Wanna jump on a call this week?