Want Smart Geeks to Join Your Startup? Take Some Risk

Hiring is a huge challenge in startups and one of a common complaint that I regularly hear is low level of respect for ESOPs among Indian geeks.

While one can argue to that point and gain nothing (except for loads of text), it’s important for startups to take risks while hiring.

ESOP Success Stories in India?

How many ESOP success stories do we have in India? Very few.

How many ‘software engineers‘ actually made money out of exits (IPO/Acquisition)? Very very few.

Career Path?

One of the reasons employees are wary of joining a startup is the haziness around career path (read: Startup Employee Survey – Why Do They Enter The Non-Startup Mode?).

Is there a defined career path for engineers? Typically, you will have one CTO, architect and software engineers. Not that you need to build more hierarchy, but is there a career path for (senior) software engineers, given the wide range of roles?

Moreover, do you live up to your promise? Many a times I have seen companies hiring these smart geeks in the name of ‘you will own this piece’, but as the company starts evolving the traditional mindset sets in. That is, suddenly you start hearing buzzwords like organization structure, changes happen in reporting structure.

You were earlier ‘friends’ with the founder and suddenly, you will start reporting to an engineering manager. You were earlier aware of company strategy (that the founder used to discuss over beer), but now you have one (maybe more) layer of data filteration.

This ain’t cool if you aren’t getting a piece of pie.

And Then?

At the mini-UnPluGGd event (we did few PoCs, before the big bang event), we dedicated one session to ‘Hiring Challenges in India‘ and there were great insights shared at the event. Resharing some of those.

Hiring Risks

How many startups take strategic risks while hiring? Would you be open to hire an engineer to do sales? Probably not.

That’s what one entrepreneur did. And the hire turned out to be the best sales person.

Of course, you don’t hire everybody just based on their ambition, but the entrepreneur (in this case) helped the hire in transitioning to sales,gave him many mini projects – i.e. groomed him to take up the most ambitious role hire had in his mind.

He will work his a$$ off and will never quit – because you gave him something that MNCs/big corporates will never have risked on.

Are you open to something similar?

Happy Employees
Happy Employees

Lessons from Zoho

Zoho has an interesting hiring strategy

We started to ask “What if the college degree itself is not really that useful? What if we took kids after high school, train them ourselves?” I talked to a lot of people internally, and one of our product managers introduced me to his uncle, a college professor, who he thought might be interested in hearing me out. As I shared our observations on recruiting, he shared his own experience in over twenty years teaching Mathematics and later Computer Science. It turned out we shared a common passion. He joined us within a month to start our “AdventNet University” as we very imaginatively called it. This was in 2005. He went to schools around Chennai to recruit students. So as not to distract anyone from their existing plans, we waited till the school year ended, went to several schools to ask for bright students who were definitely not going to college for whatever reason (usually economic). We then called on those students and their parents, and explained our plan. We started with an initial batch of six students in 2005, who were in the age range 17 or 18.

That proved to be an outstanding success. Within 2 years, those students would become full time employees, their work performance indistinguishable from their college-educated peers. We have since expanded the program, with the latest batch of students consisting of about 20, recruited not just from Chennai but smaller towns and villages in the region. – Sridhar

Not everybody needs to follow this strategy, but to give you certain perspective – take a look at startup job openings, you will notice that most of the startups have the same job description as corporates and are going after the same crowd. Maybe, meeting more interesting folks will help, if you really need a smart guy. And for that, you need to move your a$$ a bit, go to interesting events, keep meeting boring people, in the hope of finding 1 smart hire.

Full Time?

Ask yourself – do you really need everybody full time? There are certain key functions where there is limited supply (like Product Management) – in such cases, do you really need to hire such functions or rent one? Or internally build an expertise?

At the end of the day, hiring is just another sales process and very few geeky entrepreneurs, I find seems to be selling it like sales. Very few talk about their grand vision, future of the company, industry, current plus future valuation (after all, what value is ESOP without known valuation?).

How many entrepreneurs have built a personal/corporate brand where people would say ‘I wanna work with this guy/company!’.

Like I said, Hiring is a sales process and the first step to that is selling yourself, selling your company culture, talking about your employees (look at Xobni).

What’s your take? Do share your experience.

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