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How Early-Stage Startups Can Overcome Their Recruiting Challenges

Many tech founders were successful in their previous careers. Their peers are as (or more) successful and senior than they are. Meaning that much of their network isn’t a fit to come work at their startup

1-minute 30-second read

Recruiting for early-stage, VC-backed tech startups begins with the power of the founder’s network: who can they tap for intros, poach from their previous employers, and convince to take the risk to come build something with them?

That network is often smaller than you’d think.

Many tech founders were successful in their previous careers. Their peers are as (or more) successful and senior than they are. Meaning that much of their network isn’t a fit to come work at their startup.

This creates a major recruiting challenge for young, venture-funded companies. They will often need senior talent because what they’re building can be complex and sophisticated—but, they lack organizational and hierarchical structure. Even with fancy founder pedigrees, there often isn’t a proven track record, PMF, or viable product to make candidates feel confident enough to take this type of leap.

So, what can they do?

1. Startups can lean on their VC talent partner.

Larger VCs will often have an internal talent partner or team who’s responsible for supporting their early-stage portfolio with recruiting, recruiting and hiring processes, tooling, etc. This can work. I’ve met a handful of great recruiters at VCs. But the reality is that many are spread very thin and act as more of a “call us if you need anything and we’ll see what we can do” resource than a real recruiting solution. Bottom line: most founders can’t count on this delivering for them.

2. They can hire their own in-house recruiter with deep domain expertise, early on.

Early on means one of the first 10 employees. This person needs to know their shit. They have a high-risk tolerance, can roll with a lot of ambiguity, and are able to build processes and strategies without any guidance. This is hard. This person is a 1%-er. So most founders can’t pull it off. Again, back to the power of network. The founders who can do this have a leg up.

3. They can outsource to an agency that specializes in their niche.

For most early-stage startups, this is a great move. There are models where firms will embed an interim Head of Talent and a recruiter into the org to create processes and scale up early hiring before handing the reins over to a FT hire. I know a couple of great agencies. DM me if you’d like an intro.


Outside of the tactical act of recruiting, early-stage companies have to be documenting and sharing their work and story. Showing = proof.

Some ideas:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you build?
  • What’s your internal creative process?
  • What tools do you use and why?
  • Does your company represent a thesis about how the world is changing?
  • How do you work? Why?
  • Ongoing state of financials: runway, how you pay and why, your investors.

(There are 2-5 blog posts/hiring assets in there that you can create to share with candidates.)

For an example, check out Reserve. They do this really well.

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