How Our Startup Hires Top Talent Without Bidding Against Google
(PLUS, We're Hiring!)
I was frustrated when we lost a great engineering prospect to Google. Here's why that turned out to be a good thing.
"I’m also considering an offer from Google."
As a startup founder working desperately to build his team, nothing scared me, from a recruiting standpoint, more than hearing those words.
For good reason: Google is, well, Google. They’ve got insane offices with even crazier perks. They’ve got names that would skyrocket the value of any resume.
And most importantly, they’ve got infinitely deeper pockets than I do or ever will.
While I was offering salaries that were highly competitive in our market, there was no way I could compete with what Google could offer top engineers.
And so, as that same prospect explained to me a week later, he would be taking their higher offer.
They’d beaten us. And I was terrified that they’d continue to beat us.
"I don’t want to have to go up against Google," I complained to one of our advisors. "I can’t compete."
"You don’t have to."
The conversation that followed completely changed the way we did recruiting, and has allowed us to build a top-notch team that wants to be here, without getting into bidding wars.
Looking for Employees Is Like
Looking for Customers
Working at a big tech company offers a lot of benefits.
Stability. Predictability. A wide array of corporate perks. And yes, big cash for top talent.
We can’t compete for the employees that are motivated by those things.
But as a startup, we can compete for employees looking for something different.
There are a lot of parallels to our quest for new customers. When we first started out, we tried to compete against Zendesk and Desk on price. One of our primary messages was that Groove was cheaper.
The problem with positioning on price is that it gets you exactly the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers.
Higher maintenance, far less loyal, and gone at the drop of a hat when a cheaper option comes along.
Plus, if you try to compete for customers on price, a bigger player can always lower their prices to bleed you out of business.
We learned that had to compete on other differentiators. Ones that actually made people want to do business with us because we were the best choice for them, not because we were the cheapest. We needed customers who were motivated by more than price.
That same principle applies to hiring.
As a young startup, you can’t compete on salary.
Even if you win, what happens when a more lucrative offer comes along? That employee that chose you because you won a bidding war is gone.
But you can compete for the right employees (and customers) who are motivated by something greater.
Takeaway: Competing for employees on salary will get you employees who are most motivated by exactly that. It’s a losing proposition in the long term, and a game that startups can’t afford to play.
Our Value Proposition
to Prospective Employees
Being on the ground floor of an early stage startup is a very unique thing.
And it takes a unique kind of person to thrive under those conditions, and to prefer them over the alternative.
Our company is NOT right for many people. Probably for most people. And we try to make that absolutely clear in our job postings.
But for the people who would excel here, we work really hard to make sure that we convey that Groove is the perfect fit.
And after doing hundreds of interviews in the last year and testing a number of approaches, I think I’ve finally cracked the code for the three big differentiators that help us qualify and attract the right people.
Note: these differentiators aren’t necessarily unique to Groove. Lots of startups have them.
But most big companies don’t. And that’s what the most important part of finally succeeding in building a great team was: Figuring out how to get into the right talent pool.
When you’re small, every customer support interaction can have a big impact on the business.
If the customer comes away absolutely thrilled with your support, they’ll not only stay with you, but they’ll refer their friends.
Happy Customers Tell Their Friends
If the customer comes away disappointed, you may have lost another chunk of revenue that you can’t afford to lose, along with the referrals you won’t get now.
The same goes for every line of code and every blog post.
This is the case at almost every startup. and it’s resonated with every team member I’ve hired. Yet I see the point being made in very few startup job descriptions.
2) Autonomy and Remote Work
Most people can’t work remotely for a startup.
Most of us are simply too conditioned to working at an office, and the chaos of startup life mixed with being thrown into the deep end of remote work is simply too much.
We’ve found that here at Groove a few times with new hires.
Sometimes, we’ve been able to fix it and help the employee adjust.
Other times, we’ve failed.
But we’ve been very fortunate to build a team of very productive, very organized and very close-knit remote workers.
If you want to succeed as a distributed team, there’s no other option.
We’ve done that by finding people with the right experience: those who have worked from home and at startups (or as freelancers).
And we arm them with the best tools we’ve been able to find so far:
- HipChat and ScreenHero for staying in constant touch with one another.
- Pivotal Tracker and Trello for keeping on top of our daily tasks.
- Google Drive to share and collaborate on content and long-term plans.
Being part of a remote team is one of the most appreciated benefits of working here.
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3) Culture and Values
We don’t have a culture deck, or a Groove manifesto.
We simply haven’t gotten there yet.
But we do have the culture and values of our team radiating from every corner of our business.
On the outside, this blog is the biggest example of that. Simply reading these posts can give most people a fantastic idea of whether they’d fit in here or not.
And, since we’ve launched the blog and continued to hire, every single person we’ve hired has been a reader of this blog.
Perhaps it’s bias on our part, but i think it’s powerful self-selection on the applicants’ side, too.
Internally, one only need to spend a day in one of our HipChat rooms to get a feel for the dynamic of our team.
An Average Hipchat Afternoon
And that’s why we do trial periods for new hires before they become full time employees.
Both parties learn very quickly if it’s a good fit.
Takeaway: Every company can offer something different and unique to its employees. Figure out what your differentiators are, and focus on them aggressively.
How to Apply This to Your Startup
Please don’t read this as an excuse for paying low wages.
It’s really important to me to invest in competitive salaries for top talent.
It keeps the business secure by keeping our employees feeling appreciated.
And frankly, it’s the right thing to do.
But getting into bidding wars with Google is on a whole other level that goes far beyond market rates.
We can’t play in that sandbox, so we’ve had to look for other ways to set ourselves apart for talented applicants.
The above are just a few of the most effective ways we’ve found to do that.
The best advice I can give is to focus on what makes you different, and be very clear about it.
You’ll close the door to a lot of potential applicants, but you’ll appeal strongly to the right ones. And that’s far more important and valuable to your business in the long term.