Q: Dear SaaStr: What Are Some Good Strategies To Hire People In The Early Days?

A few basic thoughts … that many still don’t get right:

  • Don’t hire anyone that doesn’t understand their functional area better than you do. They should.   Don’t hire a marketer than doesn’t know a few important things in marketing you don’t.  Don’t hire a sales leader that isn’t better at sales than you in one key capacity.  Etc. etc.
  • Don’t hire anyone you don’t believe in. They won’t succeed, if for no other reason than you won’t backfill them the right way.  You’ll always look back at these folks and regret hiring them.  You’ll often hire them more because of where they came from (logo) than their evident skills.
  • If you’re not sure how to hire for a role, get an advisor that does. And have them interview your top candidates.  Someone that’s already made the hire, or better yet been the successful hire, can help you decide if someone can really be a great VP of Eng, Product, Sales, Marketing, CS, etc.  They may not always know who to hire.  But they tend to know quickly who you shouldn’t hire — and why.
  • You gotta do reference checks. But they don’t all have to be perfect. But an ex-boss or two should say they are great. Even if one disagrees.  Folks stopped doing so many reference checks during the SaaS Boom of 2021.  It’s time to get back to them.  Most importantly, if possible, avoid hiring folks without at least one boss who says they did great things.  And will share what those great things were.
  • Avoid folks that have never worked at a startup not that much bigger than yours. Old and classic advice, but it turns out to be eternally true.
  • Don’t fall in love with logos. For example, if you’re in eCommerce, you’ll know Shopify. But Shopify is doing $4 Billion a year in revenue. Don’t hire from there. No chance they know how to do a startup.
  • Don’t hire any sales reps you wouldn’t personally buy your own product from.  And be honest here. No one else will, either, if you wouldn’t. At least, not until you have a true VP of Sales to train them.
  • Be wary of The Perfect Candidate.  Why would they join you, if they’ve truly done it all?  Again, don’t let logos blind you.
  • Your VCs and investors often don’t really know who to hire.  They’ll be attracted to well-spoke and pedigreed candidates.  But if they never hire a VP of Sales, for example — they often have no idea who really to hire at your stage.  Take their feedback, but don’t over-index on it.
  • Recruiters can be hard to work with, but you’ll need them.  If not on Day 1, then eventually.  Everyone taps out their network.
  • Spend 20% of your time recruiting.  The #1 issue in recruiting is almost none of us spend enough time doing it.

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