Searching for people

4 principles for hiring our first 50 people

Picture of Jack Villiers
Jack Villiers

As an early stage company, one of our biggest priorities is hiring. In fact, we have two company goals this year and one of them is:

“Grow a diverse, high-performing team 📈”

We know that this goal alone will make the biggest impact on our success and not just this year, in all the years to come.

We care deeply about our product and people, and from experience we know that it’s easy to end up compromising and making the wrong trade-offs when it comes to hiring your first 50 people. These principles are what is ensuring we achieve our goal this year.

Let’s be honest, it’s a tough gig...

We have experienced that there are two main reasons that startups compromise or make the wrong trade-offs:

  • Pressure to deliver 🚀: you’ve raised money and now it’s time to deliver a product (quickly!)
  • Lack of talent 👥: every company is trying to hire the people you’re hiring and there aren’t enough of them.

Most startups experience this, especially early on, which can make committing to some of the principles I’m about to share even more challenging.

1️⃣ Don’t underestimate the impact of your first 50 hires

When you’re a small team, everyone in the company works together. Every hire at this stage has a ripple effect and impacts the next 10 - 20 hires. We want it to be a positive one.

For us, it’s critical that all of our first 50 hires want to share knowledge, help get others up to speed, create foundations that others can build on and, when the time comes, give away their legos.

There is another layer to this for a very customer-focused company like us: these hires impact our customers too. Everyone in our company speaks to customers so it makes this principle even more important.

2️⃣ Keep a very high bar

Companies talking about keeping a “high bar” almost has a mythical feel to it. Everyone says they have one so what does it actually mean? How are we actually doing it?

Keeping a high bar means not compromising on a key set of skills, behaviours and values that make an exceptional hire. It’s having a low risk-appetite for our first 50 hires because we are not willing to take unnecessary chances. To keep a very high bar you need to invest heavily in your hiring process so that you have the right structures in place to make objective decisions. We decided that some of our earliest hires would be for our Talent team so that we had the right skills in our company to achieve this.

This principle increases our productivity, quality of work and helps us attract more people at that bar. It also allows us to avoid cultural challenges that tend to happen in startups as they scale. For us it’s looked like hiring a values-aligned team that are positive, transparent, feedback focused and care deeply about our product and people.

3️⃣ Build an inclusive environment and prioritise attracting diversity

If we don’t prioritise and commit to this from day one, it becomes a lot harder to change later. Commitment means we are creating an inclusive culture so that diversity can belong.

We are willing to wait longer to get more diverse shortlists for each role and investing in things that attract diversity even if they feel “expensive” or “time-consuming” for a startup. An example of this would be that we work really hard to source for diversity rather than just relying inbound applications. The more we have invested in building a diverse team the easier it has been for us to make progress because people can increasingly see themselves reflected in our team.

We know that this work will need to continue as a priority throughout the entire lifecycle of the company and we are also committed to that.

4️⃣ Slow down to speed up

This is the one that can be the hardest to come to terms with because we realised that not many companies are doing it. It’s easy to get into the “rocket-ship” mentality about hiring, “just keep burning more fuel and you’ll reach your destination 😬”.

This year our goal is to “grow a diverse, high performing team” that will give us significantly more capacity to execute on the huge opportunity ahead of us. We are putting the emphasis on diversity and high performance rather than the number of people because we know that it will have the most impact. A team of 50 people is our rough target by the end of the year but we wouldn’t trade off on the above to reach that number.

We also know that when you absorb people too quickly at this stage you can compromise on creating real cohesion within your team. Later on, cracks can appear and you realise you’ve accumulated “people debt”. Slowing down to speed up is being willing to end up with fewer people than your goal but the right people.

Final thoughts...

Hiring your first 50 people as a startup is full of nuances depending on the company. We feel lucky to be in a position where we can hire our first 50 people with these principles in mind and have the support from our current team and investors.

Fortunately, we’re on track 😅 If you’d like to join us on this journey head over to our careers page.

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