How Early-Stage Startups Can Attract Seasoned Executives
For an entrepreneur looking to quickly scale a startup, balance is everything. There’s the balance between expanding too fast and too slow; spending enough to grow and saving enough to stay afloat; embracing ambition and staying realistic. But perhaps the most important balance is that between the young, hungry entrepreneurs and the seasoned startup veterans.
As a new entrepreneur, do not underestimate how much you have to learn. If you truly want to move quickly and avoid detrimental rookie mistakes, you need to invest in people that have done it successfully before. While startups need the enthusiasm and creativity of fresh-faced entrepreneurs who are willing to work all night, they also recognize the importance of finding experienced senior-level executives who can use their years in the business to direct strategy and planning. These leaders can add tremendous value in hiring, training, setting realistic expectations, dealing with similarly experienced people (like investors) and unlocking a much deeper network of potential customers and mentors. Knowing when and how to hire senior management can be a huge asset to expansion, but it can also be a struggle.
The first step is attracting senior-level employees to the company. It can be challenging to figure out how to lure great talent away from established companies and cushy paychecks but doing so is important for your startup’s growth.
In the early days, this comes down to two strategies: selling the vision and demonstrating measurable progress. The appeal away from that comfortable corporate lifestyle is excitement, adventure and the chance to be at the ground floor of something that could be huge one day.
Simultaneously, experienced senior leaders often want to manage risk. As a result, your ability to demonstrate measurable, tangible progress -- new customers, processes and infrastructure you've already put in place, along with metrics and advisors, among other developments -- demonstrates to an executive that your team means business and is ready to scale.
Additionally, if your startup has funding, it’s critical you receive the support from your investors, as the outlay of capital and risk to bring in senior executives is extremely high. If your company hasn’t yet received funding, convincing seasoned industry pros to take a risk and sign on can be especially difficult, but it’s not impossible. In this scenario, you are not looking for an early employee, but instead, more of a true partner (best if they have 'skin in the game' along with you, as quity investor). The risk is of course higher for both sides because it is so early. You should always analyze the impact that a senior leader could make at this stage and if the value they can create is greater than the equity and cash that it takes to compensate them.
Even once you’ve attracted high-level hires, your work still isn’t done. One of the best things about working for a startup is its unique personality, so it’s imperative that as your company grows, the senior employees fit in with that image. My first interview question, regardless of whom I’m interviewing, is why they’re interested in the company, and my last is what they truly think of the opportunity. That helps me determine if they’ll be a good fit not just for the job but for the company as a whole. I refuse to compromise when it comes to company culture, and if that means I need to spend more time on recruiting, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
There’s nothing simple about scaling a startup. Finding the right team is integral to any company’s success, and it’s absolutely crucial for a new business with high aspirations to focus on expanding and maturing. With the appropriate balance of young, motivated employees and veteran industry experts, it will enable business wisdom to mix with unbridled enthusiasm, putting your startup on a fast-track pace to deliver consistent momentum and predictability across the business.