Recruit Top Talent Like Ari Gold From Entourage

This post was written by Ethan Bloch. Ethan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Flowtown where he built the company to 26,000 businesses, profitability and a team of 8 in less than 11 months only to be faced with the decision to shutdown the company or start from scratch on an entirely new product. He and his team choose the latter and have since been working on the new version of Flowtown which allows businesses to easily give gifts to their fans, followers and customers. You can find other startup musings from Ethan at West Coast Tech Meets East Coast Hustle.

Your investors say it, your advisors preach it, the entire startup community practically chants it: only hire A+ team members.

There’s boatloads of reasons why, but I think there’s one that trumps them all.

Startups are about solving problems, the bigger opportunity the bigger the problem. The bigger the problem the less probability you’re going to solve it. The more non-A+ people you have on your team the more friction you’ll face when solving your hard problems.

Why create more friction for an already close to impossible challenge?

That’s why you hire A+.

The thing is hiring A+ is really hard and if you don’t treat it like a process, the same way you’d treat sales or product development you’re going to suck at it.

So here’s a few tactics that are essential when recruiting A+ for the early stage startup.

Source Like A Pro

Asking friends and team members ‘who’s the best X you ever heard of or would love to work with’ is a very good place to start building your list. Even if you’ll never hire these people they help set the bar to compare other candidates to.

Next, you need to be where your potential candidates are and go where they hang out. Online and offline.

This means: GitHub, Dribble, Forrst, Google Groups, Meetups, Hack-a-thons, Startup Weekends.

It helps a lot to write your occasional script that quickly scrapes together sub-lists of potential candidates. You can then manually review these use by sorting on things like Repositories, Shots and Followers, adding people to your main list when appropriate.

Another great place to source is companies who have closed a Series B round of financing or later. Typically that’s when the fun starts to fade and things get more bureaucratic and slow. Plus I also thinks it’s fair game to poach from a Series B or later stage companies. Poaching from a Series A and earlier just feels wrong.

Finally, once you start researching candidates on your list, go deep down the rabbit hole, reviewing all sites, online profiles and even friends. The point here isn’t stalking but discovery. There’s a good chance if they rock they have friends who do too. It’s also another way to find mutual friends who you’ll soon be asking for a warm introduction.

Pipeline Management For Closers

Alright, so you’ve got a list of several hundred potential candidates, now what?

It’s time to start meeting people

  1. Get a warm introduction (via mutual Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn friend). LinkedIn and Facebook make this easy, Twitter not so much (and usually it’s better then Facebook and LinkedIn re: loose connections). So I wrote a handy script called Twitter Friend Finder, you can grab it here.
  2. Send a cold email [or other kind of message, mentioned below]. Example email here.

If you don’t have someones email address try the following

  1. Hack it (guessing email addresses isn’t hard if the persons name isn’t generic) – start with gmail.com. You can easily hack together a script that uses an email check tool and automatically guesses variants of a persons name.
  2. Message them directly in this order: GitHub, Dribble, Twitter, Facebook. Example tweet here.
  3. LinkedIn mail (I’ve heard this work really well for some people, never so much for myself)

Every teams recruiting process is different but I think it’s a good idea to have a similar first step: get the introduction or reply and then setup a phone/skype meeting with the goal of building rapport and getting them excited. If it then makes sense you can then loop them into your interview/recruiting process.

Much of the time, you’ll find candidates [who weren’t really candidates to begin with but smart MoFo’s you happened to add to your list] aren’t ready to bounce from their current job but still take a meeting cause they’re excited about meeting smart people.

Just cause they’re not ready today doesn’t mean they won’t be sometime in the 6-8 months. These seeds are golden so plant as many as you can.

Finally, make sure you’re tracking this entire process in a shared spreadsheet with your team or in some other kind of candidate tracker. I personally like using Highrise and have an account used solely for recruiting.

I track candidates with the following tags: new (no reply or introduction), open (meeting setup, talking to or no definitive outcome yet), closed (interested, thinks your ugly or not interested atm) and if closed I write a reason and possibly a next action. I then set reminders in ConnectedHQ to followup with ‘closed for now’ candidates within the next few weeks or months.

ABR: Always Be Recruiting

Recruiting isn’t something you only do when you need to hire 3 people by end of the quarter. It’s something you should always be doing now and forever.

You might not need a front-end engineer today [you probably do] but just because you meet ‘so and so’ who’s a front-end engineer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add him to your list and periodically followup just to say ‘hi’.

Additionally anytime you stumble upon some awesome open source project or app design you should be discovering who was responsible for said project and adding them to your list.

You should always be asking new friends and acquaintances who the smartest at or best at ‘X’ and, you guessed it, add them to your list.

With recruiting, just like customer development, you need to get out of the building. If someone on your founding team isn’t spending 50%+ of their time recruiting, you’re not going to hit your head count goals and you’re not going to hire A+.

Feel free to hit me up with any questions you don’t wanna leave in the comments: ethan(at)flowtown.com

Never miss a beat

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like they might just be onto something there dude. Wow.

    http://www.total-privacy.se.tc

  • http://twitter.com/tsummit Tom Summit

    Part of being a great recruiter is identifying the talent that will be receptive to your outreach. I don’t think that Series A companies are necessarily “off limits”. In some cases it is known that the company is not performing well, maybe seeking bridge financing etc…..    

    I don’t think everyone should stick around to go down with the captain and ship, so it is reasonable to put out some feelers. those receptive to the advance will respond.

    Other good times to reach out to people are, knowing when lockups are over is key to find those receptive to your recruiting advances, after an acquisition, IPO underwater   etc….

    All in all, and excellent summary of the tactics and commitment necessary for start-up recruiting.

    • http://ethanbloch.com ethan

      Thanks you Tom.

      Great point re: Series A companies aren’t necessarily off limits, especially in the case of under performance etc… 
      That’s interesting, how do you figure out when lock-ups are over?

  • http://twitter.com/alexdeve alex deve

    Great post! I think ABR is the part that some entrepreneurs are still missing. It’s all about building today a network of people that you will hire tomorrow. Don’t start the process of hiring when you need it, because you won’t get A players.

    • http://ethanbloch.com ethan

      Well said Alex. Totally agree.

  • http://twitter.com/dmcbizconnects Dmc Biz Connects

    ‘Show ‘em how to move in a room full ‘o vultures

    Industry shady it need to be taken over’

    I think Jay-Z was talking about the VC Angel scene! Great post A+