Hiring & Culture: 11 hacks for scaleups experiencing strong growth

Founders and executives know that hiring is the most important part of building and leading an organization, regardless of sector, stage or experience level.

The first day of Speedinvest Insights, our annual portfolio meetup, showcased some great hands-on advice for founders by winners who are scaling rapidly in their markets.

Below are 11 interesting nuggets we’ve picked, roughly sorted from early to later along the growth curve, that may help shorten the learning curve for founders.

(Speedinvest meetups follow Chatham House rules to encourage candid discussion, so I won’t name sources. They include C-level leaders and founders at B2B SaaS and Fintech Start-ups (two of our focus areas at Speedinvest) with 2–5x annual employee growth, successfully advanced funding rounds, and strong brands in their markets).

  1. The biggest assets in early hiring are the CEO and founding team, so be visible. Get out, show up at meetups, aggressively build and reach out into your network. No-one can pitch your company like yourself. There is no substitute for this.
  2. Don’t be afraid to play hard to get sooner, rather than later. Tech talent is scarce but engineers love building cool things and appreciate creative challenges. This can give startups a strong advantage over established players. Founders sometimes tend to go begging for hires, when playing hard to get can feed a buzz that may end up attracting more talent.
  3. Interview all new hires yourself, as long as this is reasonably possible. This may become repetitive and boring, but it’s a quick fix to get culture right. Also, keep in mind that the interview may be the only time you get face time with your new hire during their first weeks on the job. 10 minutes is enough for some roles, but try to squeeze them in.
  4. Get culture right in a very hands-on way. Culture is an extension of the personalities in the founding team and translates into the DNA of a company. Don’t try to change it (you won’t succeed); try to understand it and use it as an asset. If you don’t know what drives your culture, you should think hard and figure this out. Culture needn’t be fluffy, small things matter: a CEO who asks about culture and values (and which ones don’t fit) during interviews can create a piece of shared small talk and company lore among new hires (as well as weeding out bad fits).
  5. Have regular check-ins regarding your culture as you grow. Reiterating, regularly checking and adapting cultural norms is important and totally normal. 50+ new team members may entirely change the operating mode of an organization — have a filter to know whether you are going in the right direction. As the company scales, it may be worth introducing new procedures, processes and control measures. There is no need to look at an organization merely as operating mode. Nevertheless, how the processes are being implemented inside the organization also defines culture, as well as how decisions are being taken.
  6. Keep an eye on having one common denominator when it comes to your company culture. As the company scales, you may wonder whether it is even possible to have one culture within such a diverse group of people across different departments and functional levels. While it is entirely possible to have different working modes within an organization, having a completely distinct culture in different departments is unhealthy. Rather, make sure to have one common overarching approach.
  7. When the time comes, hire ahead of people who can scale with your company. This role is difficult to let go later on and important to maintain continuity in people management, so finding someone who can grow with the organization is key. Second best solution: pick someone internal who will not mind working under a later, more senior hire.
  8. Don’t compromise on functional experience and expertise for senior hires. As you scale, getting functions right will become more important. You’ll need a VP of Sales, Head of Product, etc., who have done this before. The leaders that you hire will need to be making decisions constantly and you will rarely have time to train and develop generalists on the job, even if they’re high-potentials with great albeit irrelevant track records. Really, search for people with functional expertise, who would be able to execute decisions quickly and deliver within certain functions with limited resources. Second-best are internal hires complemented with training. They may have functional gaps, but their knowledge of and standing in the company will help them focus on their functional tasks.
  9. Find an internal recruiter once you hit 30–50 employees. Sifting out a great candidate from a lot of mediocre ones can be a drag, and you’ll only really find out how good they are once they get started. Best case they will save significant C-level time and be a great support in hiring. Working with agencies, even ones embedded with you, is a disappointment more often than not. They simply can’t pitch your company as you would. Don´t underestimate the role that recruiting plays in brand building — an in-house recruiter is someone who you can really build a recruiting story with early on. (Service announcement: this is why our internal HR agency Speedinvest Heroes offers HR as a Service to our portfolio companies as part of our Growth Partner Program — alignment really matters in this business).
  10. You will become lonelier as you scale, so get help. At 50+ employees, maybe earlier, you will start hiring senior staff who should have more experience than the founding team. They will challenge you and push back against decisions. This is why you hired them. This change, organizational turmoil, and the pressure of maintaining aggressive growth make even the most successful founders feel lost and alone. Get help! Your people person or board members should be able to connect you with a good, trusted leadership coach. In no way getting a coach is a sign of weakness — to the contrary, keeping a flexible and open-minded approach is key to a growth mindset, the same characteristic that you as a founder would want to seek in your key hires. One thing to think about carefully is using the same coach for the entire founding team: it may give them a lot of influence, but it helps reduce conflicts and keep several founders together if they get this kind of support.
  11. Some pointers on C-Level hiring: Use executive search agencies. Find the best company in town, exhale deeply when you see the price tag and use them anyway. Consider negotiating a bulk deal if you’re expecting more C-level hires in the future. Expect C-level hires to cost 150k after Series A and 200k after Series B rounds (Euros or Pounds, depending on location). C-level hires usually want to meet your board. This is reasonable since they’ll be working closely with them, it also adds eyes on crucial hires.

This list was comprised by Felix Faltin and Yuliya Kvetko.

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