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7 things I wish I knew about hiring when we raised our Series A

7 lessons learned from hiring Series A

In April, we announced our Series B round of funding.

Every major milestone like this one inspires me to look back on the journey we’ve been on. When I reflect on the last 16 months, I realize that many of the key lessons I’ve learned are about hiring.

This isn’t surprising since one of the main reasons to raise your Series A is to have the money to grow your team. And coincidentally, most founders say that hiring keeps them up at night.

This post is for founders who’ve recently raised their Series A and are going from being a team to being a company. I hope it brings you some clarity and perspective. Oh, and don’t make my mistakes. 😊

1. Spend money to hire quality candidates

We were 10 people when we raised our Series A in November 2020.

OpenPhone team in November 2020 on a video call

If you’ve found product-market-fit with a small team like we did, you’ll quickly realize that you need to focus your attention on hiring.

As you scale, you’ll need to fill critical gaps across the company. You’ll need the right people in these roles as soon as possible. By April 2022, a year and a half later, we had more than 5Xed in size.

Our much larger team on a video call in May 2022

After raising our Series A, we were in scrappy startup mode and paranoid about spending money on anything, especially paying 20% of an employee’s first-year salary to a recruiter. But ramping up our team took more time than necessary because we were hesitant to hire an outside recruiting agency. So my advice to other founders?

Don’t worry about spending money to make those critical hires.

Go ahead and work with that awesome recruiting firm. Pay more to promote your roles on relevant job boards. And work with any recruiter who can bring you quality candidates.

We’ve used these job boards:

Of course, you’ll also want to be generous with compensation. But you already know that. 🙂

In the beginning, we weren’t comfortable hiring a recruiting firm. And looking back, we could’ve moved much faster if we hadn’t shied away from getting outside help.

Is paying a $30K retainer and a 20% success fee a lot?

Yes. But it costs a lot more if you hire the wrong person or fail to fill an important role for months and, as a result, miss your goals.

2. Build an in-house recruiting team ASAP

Working with external recruiting agencies and sourcers is great. However, it doesn’t replace the need to build out an internal recruiting team as soon as possible.

If no one in-house is in charge of hiring, that’s the first JD you should post.

I don’t even remember what we did before hiring our Head of Talent & People, Eric Dimaano, in summer 2021. I wish we had him join us earlier.

In-house recruiters know your company and culture really well so they’re able to use these insights to sell the position to talented candidates. They’re also able to better assess the quality of the candidates and their overall fit for the company.

They may also bring innovative strategies to the table. Our in-house recruiting team came up with a really effective one: we ask anyone who interviewed a candidate to reach out to them when the offer is made. This strategy helps the candidate feel welcomed by the whole team, it casts the company in a positive light, and it helps build momentum towards an accepted offer.

Here are just some of the things your in-house recruiters will help you with:

  • Marketing your open roles
  • Communicating the company culture and unique reasons why candidates should want to work with you
  • Sourcing candidates
  • Screening candidates
  • Coordinating interviews and team debriefs
  • Moving candidates along in the process faster
  • Preparing offers
  • Helping with the closing steps

While you can check many of these off when working with external partners, you’ll want to align the whole team around hiring and avoid second-guessing any offers you do make. That’s only possible in-house.

3. Always be sourcing

“As a founder, how do you envision working together with the talent team?”

I’ve heard this question from most talent leaders I’ve interviewed.

I believe that no matter whether you have an in-house team, external partners, or both, the founder should always be involved in hiring. You’ll have to source candidates yourself.

This sounds intimidating at first, but there are plenty of tools to make this easier. Like Gem.

I use Gem to find candidates on LinkedIn and send them personalized emails. It automates follow-ups which makes my life much easier.

The process is pretty easy:

Setting up a candidate sequence campaign in Gem
Creating a base sequence in Gem

1. Create a sequence for your open role.
2. Add candidates you find on LinkedIn.

Sending a Gem sequenced email to a specific candidate
Reaching out to candidates I’ve found on LinkedIn through Gem sequences

3. Personalize email for each candidate.

4. Get creative with job descriptions

Most job descriptions are boring and look like they’ve been copy-pasted. Unless you’ve already established a strong employer brand, you’ll have no chance of standing out amidst a sea of listings.

I’ve found that writing a blog post about an available role shares both who we are and who we’re looking for a lot better than your average JD.

Here are some recent examples for our Head of Content and Head of Talent positions.

Maybe for you, it’s recording a video to go alongside the listing, spending a bit of extra time on crafting the perfect JD, or getting creative when sharing it on social media. Find your unique flavor and sprinkle it in.

For example, my co-founder and our CEO Mahyar shared our Director of Talent position on LinkedIn.

He offered to pay $20,000 to anyone who introduced us to the person we hire. The response to his post has been phenomenal. We have received hundreds of applications.

Mahyar Raissi posting on LinkedIn offering ,000 for a successful Head of Talent referral
LinkedIn update from Mahyar promoting our Head of Talent role

5. Understand what great looks like

If you’re a first-time founder, you’ll be hiring for roles you’ve never needed until now. Or even hiring for roles you didn’t know existed.

For this situation, before starting an interview process, ask your investors to introduce you to the best people they know who are currently doing that role elsewhere.

Besides investors, I’ve also talked to founders who are a stage ahead of us to get their perspectives on our open roles. Being able to text a fellow founder and ask how they went about making a key hire has been more useful than anything else. I am always happy to return the favor, too!

Asking investors and fellow founders about a role helps you set the bar for your search. Plus, you can tap into their network for hiring, and they’ll have your company on their radar as you grow.

Here are some of the questions I ask:

  • What does it mean to do X at {{company}}?
  • What metrics are you and your team responsible for?
  • What’s the composition of your team?
  • What do most folks assume to be true about your function that is actually false?
  • What kind of an interview process did you go through to get your current job? What did you like/dislike about it? What questions were you asked during the interview process? Is X project reasonable to assign to candidates?

Of course, you should ask more specific questions based on the exact role you’re looking to learn about.

6. Create a rock-solid interview process

This one took me a while to appreciate. No matter how great your top-of-the-funnel is, not having a documented interview process will prevent you from hiring the right people.

It may sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. For our Social Media Manager & Community role, we created six items in the interview kit, from the hiring spec to the final exercise.

Interview kit in Notion we used for hiring our Social Media Manager & Community

We also created a detailed interview plan that included seven steps starting with a recruiter screen and ending with the offer.

High-level interview plan for the role documented in Notion

For the team interviews, we drafted questions ahead of time and identified which team member would cover each question.

Interview prompts for each panelist in Notion

Preparing the right questions in advance and organizing your interview team helps you stand out in a candidate’s market.

7. Tap your employee network

When you hire awesome people, the best question to ask them is if they know other great folks who’d be a good fit for the team.

Create a referral program the moment you raise your Series A.

Our referral program has helped us fill critical positions while also rewarding our referring employees with cash incentives.

Here is how we’ve structured it:

  • We pay out $10,000 for Engineering, Product, Director, or Head of-level roles. For all other roles, we pay $2,500.
  • The bonus is paid out within the first month of the referral’s start date.

And here are our results:

  • In total, we hired 50 people as a Series A company.
  • 14 of those hires came from employee referrals. That’s 28% of all hires.
  • Our top referrer made $25,000 in referral bonuses. Not bad!

Good luck with your hiring!

Hiring in the constantly growing startup scene is intimidating. But it’s also so important for the growth of your business. Hopefully, you’ve been able to glean a few hiring tips from my early mistakes, so you can save yourself some time.

In the meantime, if you know any great people who are looking for their next role, please refer them to our Careers page. (And thank you!)

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