If there’s one thing all startups have in common during the midstage is they have a need to hire new
employees as they scale. For most founders, this is the first time hiring people outside of their immediate
circle of friends and acquaintances. But how do founders know that they’re hiring the right people for their
startup? After all, hiring the wrong people can bring a startup down, making it difficult to continue
growing and find long-term success.
In Chapter 1 of his book Midstage Momentum, startup coach Roland Siebelink shares insight from successful
founders about their methods for hiring the right people who can help take a startup to the next level.
- Is it a good idea to hire people with experience at a big corporation?
- How important is it for potential candidates to fit the values of a startup?
- How to spot the X-factor that doesn’t show up on someone’s CV.
- When is the right time to hire generalists and when should you hire specialists?
- The role that passion plays in finding an employee who is a good fit.
- Should startups be striving to find the perfect person to fill a position?
Has your fast growing startup ever wondered what to focus on in hiring the right
people? Here are key insights from 40 amazing founders around the world.
My name is Roland Siebelink and I'm a coach and the CEO and founder of the
Midstage Institute. We work exclusively with startups between 25 and 250 people,
$5 million to $50 million in revenue to help them scale the midstage faster. And
we've just published this book that is based on interviews with 40 of the most
amazing new founders from startups, fast-growing startups around the world.
The first chapter is about hiring the right people. What do these founders focus
on in actually making sure that they get the right people on board and the wrong
people off board? Here are some key insights that you will find back in the
First of all, it is actually a key concern after receiving funding. This is
something that came up time and time again in the interviews we did for the
Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast, that after they received the first round of
funding, they can now go beyond that circle of friends and actually start hiring
in the open market. There's a lot of concern about, am I making the right
decisions? Am I actually getting the right people on board?
Keep in mind hiring is all about scaling the number of decisions that you can
make in the company. It's not just getting more people on board. If they
together do not allow you to make more decisions, then what's the point?
A few points that came up time and time again. Startup energy over corporate
entitlement. Really focus on the people that are self-starters, that are buying
into the vision, that have a drive to succeed. And people that have that hunger,
as Dennis Kayser of Forecast was saying, that is something you really look for
in the interview.
The second is the right values over the right experience. Interview for the
values of the company, to make sure they fit your company. It does require
explicit values that you have written down and that you can share with them, not
just hiring by gut-feel because that can often lead to a lack of diverse hiring.
And finally, people that show a lot of energy and excitement over the
experience. Experience in startups is actually undervalued in most cases because
you are reinventing a business model, so what experience really is valuable and
valid toward the company unless you're already at the later stage of that
The third thing that comes up a lot is curious problem solvers. People who want
to learn the industry, that do have a strong technical side, that are not afraid
of technology, even when they're outside of engineering, and that find a way to
solve problems. The people that have hacked together many solutions in their
previous lives just to fix something that they feel is broken.
And another quote I really loved from Dennis Kayser at Forecast was to sense the
"Oomph" when you're interviewing people. Make sure that it's a good fit over
anything else they bring. It's not just a CV but your gut really has to say,
"These people are a good fit." They have to have something that's standing out,
the oomph, the X factor, as some people call it. Something that really attracts
you to them as a potential employee. It's really hard to put your finger on, but
it was surprising how often founders said that is actually the one thing that
they're looking for.
The corollary of that is that generally they prefer to hire generalists before
specialists. The right time to start hiring specialists is when you are already
about 100, 150 people, where a specialist can start playing a bigger role. But
until then, so many things are still undefined or open for a lot of change, so
generalists do a better job at being able to fit with whatever the company
You're looking for people that are relying on dogfooding. As Subhi Beidas of
CodeCov was saying, it is important that people are happy to also use the
product itself and to learn from that, not just having to do everything with
user research. And then, as Melanie Meador at Redeam was saying,w e can help
mold the experience but we cannot help mold the passion. You really have to find
the people that show passion first, and then the experience will actually come
as they work more with the business model of the company.
Three more points. One was to really select people that are looking for that
startup grind and not just any job. People that are just looking for a nine to
five - or a 10 to six in the Bay Area - are not really the people that you want,
especially when you're hiring early on. It is really tough to take on somebody
who's only got experience from a big corporation, as Larry Talley at Everyware
was saying. People have to specifically look for that startup grind. They have
to be looking for something more than just a job and have to feel happy about
making their hands dirty and helping out with other things than your job.
This is a little bit related to the pattern of generalists before specialists
that I was talking about before. If you hire specialists too early, those are
often people that are only comfortable in helping out in their particular
specialization. But what the company really needs is people that just make their
hands dirty with whatever is needed at a specific point in time. And generalists
are generally better at that.
That's many criteria. Startup energy over corporate entitlement. Values over the
right experience. Curious, problem-solver. Sensing that oomph. Generalists
before specialists. And looking for a grind, not just a job. But there's
something that really came out of the interview with Sebastiano Bertani at
Tanaza in Milan. How long do you wait for perfection? Sometimes there are so
many criteria that you can apply and always find something about a specific
candidate. Everybody does have issues, of course. It's not a matter of just
filtering out so many that you never get to hire someone. In the end, you need
more people, you need to make more decisions, and you need to scale.
How do you do that? Brightly, Pat Larsen at ZenLedger recommends writing a very
long job description up front. Make sure that people that come in are the ones
that have read it because that already filters out a lot of the issues that you
could otherwise uncover during an interview.
And then another point that Kevin Yoo at WearWorks made is even if you can hire
certain people on your team, your team is always much bigger than just your
hires. Think of building that extended family, not just the people that will
report to you and that work for you full time. Not everyone can actually commit
to you full-time or commit to a startup salary with a lot of options for future
rewards. Sometimes people will just be happier in a role as an advisor. Kevin
was saying that at WearWorks they have relied tremendously on very powerful
advisors and think of them as an extended family. That's the one tip I want to
leave you with.
In subsequent videos, we will talk about the other chapters in this book, such
as setting the right culture, illuminating your vision, picking the real
priorities, finding your ideal customers and understanding their key needs,
building the go-to market team, innovating only where it matters, whether and
when to raise funds, how to stay on good terms, and balancing confidence and
Looking forward to seeing you with one of these other videos. The book is
available on Amazon and it's called Midstage Momentum, under my name.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the