Startup Life/Opinion/

Why a people person should be one of your startup’s first 10 hires

Given how important hiring is for your business, startups should be investing early in their people team.

Ben Butler

By Ben Butler

Founders, imagine there’s a product that takes up to 50% of your  time every week and, after AWS, is one of your largest expenses. Imagine that product is the infrastructure that you build everything on top of. Now, imagine not dedicating any headcount to that. 

You got it — I’m talking about hiring. The average startup will spend 990 hours hiring 12 software engineers. That’s 19 hours a week, every week, for a year. 

It’s crazy to consider how little rigour most companies put into hiring when you consider how impactful each hire can be on the business. That’s why at least one of the first 10 people in your startup should be focused on this essential part of the business.

The importance of hiring

Hiring is the infrastructure layer for your organisational culture, and the process by which everything in your company gets done. You can’t build without people!

Despite this, recruiting is one of the most traditionally under-invested in activities. In what other part of the company would you under-staff and make decisions so haphazardly? Decisions that will cost millions and directly affect the success or failure of the company — often based on gut feelings instead of processes. 

“In what other part of the company would you under-staff and make decisions so haphazardly?”

Hiring a people person helps overcome the urgency, biases and convenience factors that can pervade hiring. A people person can also help the company avoid missing out on good hires because of a poor hiring process; a mistake that’s just as costly as a bad hire. 

Before I joined Evervault as head of talent, the company had a decent hiring process on paper. But candidates would slip through the cracks. We’d reach out to people and forget to follow up. People would do well in interviews, but we’d take too long to get back to them. Not ideal. 

Now, everything gets tracked in Lever and recruiting stats are a key company metric, so we know if we’re making the right recruiting decisions and we’re on track to building the organisation we want. While everyone is responsible for each candidate they interact with, I work on improving the overall candidate experience.

A people person also helps build an effective organisation

Hiring a people person early on — particularly someone who has seen organisations grow and scale before —  can help a founder work through the challenges of building an effective organisation.

“People often overlook the importance of building a company in favour of building the product.”

People often overlook the importance of building a company in favour of building the product, without realising how interrelated the two are. The structure of your organisation will be reflected in your company’s products (the inverse of Conway’s law), and your products will only be as good as your organisation.

This is why startups need to be intentional about how they build their company.

I also approach my job with that long-term intentionality in mind — I major in recruiting, but minor in all things ‘people’. While a large part of my job is getting people in the door; I want them set up for success when they’re in.

Where do I find a people person?

While every company is unique, it’s super valuable to bring someone experienced onboard who can just get to work as your people person. 

One option is a good tech recruiter, who has experience hiring for a startup. Another option is to find people who joined high-growth companies early and built out people processes. People like this can focus on recruiting, but also help shape other areas like HR, people operations and office management. They likely haven’t had a ‘people’ title before, but they’ve seen a bunch of stuff in action — and can figure the rest out. 

“Founders should continue to spend a lot of their time on hiring — 30% to 50% early on.”

Founders should continue to spend a lot of their time on hiring — 30% to 50% early on — and everyone on the early team should act as recruiters: sourcing, networking; interviewing. I fully believe all early startup employees should Always Be Recruiting™, but it helps to have someone actually owning the entire recruitment process — from identifying the right candidates, to designing the interview and onboarding processes.

Hiring will always be a highly-leveraged activity, in other words, one closely linked to value creation. That’s particularly true in the early days. At a startup, you have a window of opportunity to design your hiring process before you hit a ‘hockey-stick’ rapid growth phase. If you’re hiring people to write code; you should hire someone to codify hiring, and that starts with a people person early on in your journey.

Ben Butler is head of talent at Evervault. Previously, he spent over five years at Stripe building out the Dublin and Seattle offices.