Startup Recruiting — Where to Find the Best People

There are exactly zero billion dollar companies that were built by the founders alone. In fact, you’ll need to hire an army of incredibly talented people to have any chance of reaching that goal. The first part of the problem is finding the best people who may want to work at your startup. Here’s how you do it:

Filtered Marketplaces

These marketplaces, like Hired and A-List, have great people but their focus on salary can incentivize mercenary behavior in candidates.

Begin by filtering on skillset, then reading profiles for alignment with your mission. If you find someone interesting, send them a personalized note explaining your company’s mission and why they might be a fit. Lastly, explain your salary constraints and highlight the large equity stake you can offer. This will filter out most of the mercenaries.

Focus on the higher salaried candidates, sending a generic template to each. As an early stage startup it’s tough to compete on compensation with larger startups that are scaling rapidly.

Deep Networking

If you’re genuinely looking for game changers like Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, those kind of people will never make it to the job market. Although networking to these people is both simple and effective, most founders don’t do it because it absorbs an incredible amount of time.

Get meetings with investors, serial entrepreneurs and others who have worked at successful tech companies. Ask them the deliberately vague question: “Who are the best people you’ve worked with in area X?” Make lists of the names mentioned and get warm introductions to those people. Assuming they won’t be available, ask them about their best colleagues. Repeat until you find someone who is both excellent and available.

Focus all your efforts on your 1st degree network. For most people, it will be exhausted quickly.

Search your Communities

Startup communities, like accelerator alumni forums and VC portfolio groups, can provide high quality people whose company has recently shut down.

Search for founders posting about new side projects, looking for consultancy gigs or even experiencing significant life events. Participate in community events — you’ll be amazed what you hear just being around and you might get the chance to discreetly ask staff if there are good founders who may be in need of a ‘soft landing’.

Post job descriptions in the forums or chat rooms alone. Most community members will do this, so you’ll be competing for attention in a crowd.

It doesn’t matter how good you and your co-founders are — you will need to build an incredible team, to build a big company. Maximize your chances of hiring the best, by starting with the best.

This article is part of a series on Startup Hiring & HR.

Where to Find the Best People
How to Hire Great People
How Interview Projects Stop Bad Hires
How Startups Make Offers People Sign
7 Reasons to Give Employees More Equity
Why You Have to Fire Fast
How to Cut Your Startup’s Costs Without Layoffs
Doing Layoffs the Right Way

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here:

You can reach me here:

Thanks to Kaego Rust, Eric Wiesen and David Smooke for their help on this article.
Photo by
Rebekah Howell.



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Ash Rust

Pre-seed Investor. Email: B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: