Opinion piece by Cristina Ferreres, Head of People at Spanish software company Bloobirds.
Starting a business can be an adrenaline rush, but this can easily descend into chaos without the right technology and team in place. It is crucial, therefore, to implement an adequate hiring strategy and select the best candidates at each stage. For this topic, we have asked Cristina Ferreres, Head of People at Bloobirds, to give us her opinion and some key tips on how to approach recruiting for startups.
A startup’s success depends on its people
When we’re thinking about the reasons why tech startups become successful, it’s easy to defer to the technical element or the development of a powerful new software. However, as Javier Darriba, CEO of Bloobirds, notes, and I agree, for us this success is rooted in the team – the people who conceived the project and make it possible on a day-to-day basis. What’s more, when companies surround themselves with good people, they become capable of achieving anything. This spirit is precisely what drives the startup philosophy.
So, although there are many other factors that influence an organisation’s development, people and leadership are two of the fundamental pillars. They are the foundations of the organisation and its development depends on them. Below, we will see which aspects are essential to consider when hiring new employees for a startup, both in the initial phase and during growth and internationalisation.
Recruiting during a company’s early stages
The importance of ‘A players’
At Bloobirds, we’ve always been very conscious of how important it is to select the right staff to join the project because our growth depends on it. So, since the beginning we placed a lot of emphasis on hiring employees who fulfil three criteria: having talent, being team players, and being very engaged with the company. These characteristics shape what is known as an ‘A player’: that employee the whole company would like to have and, likewise, is aligned with our culture.
‘A players’ are particularly relevant during the initial stage because they are the people who will propel the organisation as a whole. They might be junior or senior, but they must have a high degree of emotional intelligence and be able to overcome challenges, however difficult or adverse they may seem, to devise solutions for even the worst situations.
However, it is important to stress that although many startups are frequently tempted, for budget reasons, to hire very junior staff or apprentices, they must combine these with more senior roles for them to learn from and train under.
The Human Resources hiring expert
Another incredibly important player during the initial stage is someone with extensive recruitment experience. This person will be responsible for signing up lots of people in a short space of time and mistakes made here can prove expensive. After all, at this point there are likely to be multiple open recruitment processes, with more in development, or due to be started, and a high staff turnover rate here can cause a bottleneck. Plus, talent, which is so important in a startup, is often scarce, so it can require a great deal of time to find the right candidates.
Leadership to drive the company
The role of the manager with a flair for leadership is key, because the A players want to be part of an exciting project. This means the company needs someone who can inspire the employees and put all their drive and energy into steering the project. This person must also have excellent management skills because they will be responsible for a first-rate team who will demand organisational effectiveness.
During my career I have worked with companies that want to hire these ‘rockstars’ but lack the necessary leadership to supervise this type of employee. As a result, they end up leaving the company shortly after leaving to join other projects. In this respect, we should say that for managers and directors, leadership can be worked on, but for founders and CEOs it must come as standard, because the company’s prosperity depends on it. A while ago I read an article which referred to precisely this factor as one of the most relevant considerations for an investor to bet on a given company. In fact, the leadership should be considered just as important as the business idea, monetisation, the market, and scalability.
“The leadership should be considered just as important as the business idea, monetisation, the market, and scalability.”
The growth phase: what type of employee profiles are required?
Head of Sales and Head of Marketing roles
When companies need to grow fast, two additional roles come into play: Head of Sales and Head of Marketing. My advice on these hires, if you have not already recruited them during the previous stage, is to do them simultaneously. After all, the person responsible for sales is going to need someone with a good marketing strategy as a “lever” to sell, and the marketing head will need a team that can close the deal.
Hiring one at a time, or even giving the responsibility of both areas to one position, can be costly because there is a huge workload and different, but complementary, strategies are required. They both need to be particularly good at what they do, “stars” if you like, and be able to collaborate effectively together to understand each department’s requirements.
Strengthen client experience with good customer success stories
When you’re in the growth phase and have therefore already secured sales, client experience is fundamental, which means having a good customer success profile to provide user confidence and support sales. To achieve this, you will need to use suitable metrics, implement good onboarding processes, and provide case studies, for which a professional capable of handling this volume of work is needed.
An experienced HR department
When the company reaches 30 to 50 employees, it’s time to acquire a recruitment specialist with HR management experience. This is a key moment, when you need to set up a new process from nothing, and it must all be aligned with the company’s strategy and focused on the business, in order to build a good selection strategy, among other things.
It is worth investing a bit more in this HR role, especially in startups which have brilliant talent that needs to be looked after and understood. If not, it can lead to a high staff turnover rate.
“Startups have brilliant talent that needs to be looked after and understood, otherwise it can lead to a high staff turnover rate”
External or internal recruitment?
When startups are beginning, they go to acquaintances, referrals, or people they have worked with in the past. They don’t often look for external candidates or external help, and do not pay for it, partly because they don’t have the budget required.
However, when the company has between 15 to 20 people, it does become necessary to find more specific roles on the market. At this point, the hires are usually relatively intermittent, maybe 6 or 7 per year, and as such it makes more sense to use a headhunter than add a member of staff to do this task.
On the other hand, when the organisation has around 25 to 30 employees, and it expects to go through a fast growth phase, it is definitely important to look for an internal recruiter to help recruit for different positions. In any event, there are certain hires, such as for the most technical roles for example, that will generally require external help (headhunters), because they are in-demand profiles and extremely scarce on the market.
The internationalisation stage: inside out
Head office and branches
This aspect will depend greatly on each company’s strategy, but in general, it’s best to open offices abroad, and for these offices to be branches with one head office acting as the nucleus and housing the business structure. Particularly in companies that are set up in person, where decisions are made in face-to-face meetings, it’s convenient for the core employees to remain at the head office, while the branches are run by a country manager with their own team. In this way, and for cost, ease and efficiency motives, it is advisable to keep these foreign offices as simple as possible in organisational terms.
“It’s best to open offices abroad, and for these offices to be branches with one head office acting as the nucleus”
One example is UserZoom, the company that Javier Darriba (current CEO of Bloobirds) cofounded in Barcelona. During internationalisation, they opened branches in other cities such as Munich, London and Silicon Valley.
In terms of the recruiter role, based on our experience, we recommend they remain in the head office as they can contract roles required from there. An interesting option is to use the country managers for support because they will have better knowledge of the country’s culture, language and way of working at a local level.
To sum up, the initial stage will be characterised by the leadership capability at board level and among the managers bringing in the A players, thanks to the recruitment expert. In the growth period, it will be essential to have sales, marketing, HR, and customer success managers on board, while during internationalisation, the most efficient method is to centralise these processes from head office and open local branches.
If you bear all these considerations in mind when recruiting, you can be confident that the candidates you hire will do well, no matter which department they work in, because they will be willing to adapt, learn, improve their environment and the role they perform.
For more information on how to streamline HR processes, we'd like to invite you to discover Kenjo's features during our 14-day free trial. We also recommend the following blog posts
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About Cristina Ferreres
Cristina is Head of People at Bloobirds, a tech company specialising in sales prospecting. In 2020, Bloobirds closed a round of capital financing of 3 million Euros and currently has around 40 employees. Cristina is also Founder and Chairwoman of Outbound People, a startup focused on hiring and training SDRs (Sales Development Representatives), and has a long career history in B2B sales.