Hiring the right people for your scale up business

Yashu Mittal

Top tips for scale-up hiring

Getting the right skills

When a start-up scales fast, it needs people with a different kind of skillset from those who helped build the business.

Start-ups thrive when a team are empowered to act fast and roll up their sleeves to help out with everything. Headcounts are low, but there’s much to be done. Late nights and early mornings are commonplace, you work hard and play hard.

Anil Stocker, CEO and co-founder of MarketInvoice knows the importance of getting the right people:

The process of hiring is very similar to a sales funnel. You have to fill the pipeline at the top level by creating as much awareness as possible. This can be done through things like events and job boards – really utilise your network to get as many candidates as possible. We’ve found that referrals also work really well. Incentivising your existing employees to refer results in better quality candidates at a lower cost than you could achieve through agencies.

“Once they’re in the funnel you have to prioritise which ones to spend time with and how to fast-track the best ones. Then think about your interview process, how you’re going to test their skills, essentially going through a qualification process. You’ve got to sell to a candidate too, so they’re excited to come and work for you.”

“At MarketInvoice, we have a very robust hiring process in place. Candidates are interviewed and scored by not only their hiring manager, but also the wider team to ensure a good culture fit. After that, either myself or my co-founder Ilya will conduct a culture-check interview to gain a deep understanding of the candidate and make sure their values are aligned with the company.”

Generalists vs specialists

The team you hired to help start your business were likely young, ambitious and entrepreneurial. They don’t necessarily have vast experience in business but they are smart, resourceful and know how to get the job done quickly. To scale up you’ll need a different kind of team dynamic.

Anouk Agussol, Chief People Officer at MarketInvoice says “You’ll tend to move from generalists to specialists in each area and you’ll probably need to bring in people with experience of what ‘great’ looks like.”

Your team will work best when you’ve got the right leadership in place and the right skills to make things happen quickly, so the challenge will be to get your new and existing team members working in harmony.

Agussol also gives the advice to “be completely honest with anyone new that you’re hiring, especially to a senior position.” If they’re not from a start-up background, make sure they’re a good culture fit as larger companies tend to do things more slowly and with more planning than scale-ups have the luxury of doing.

You might also want to think about your policy when it comes to promoting internally. Start-ups tend to have flat structures, and if you’re on the road to becoming a bigger company, your staff will want to know that their careers can progress if they stick with you.

Process vs control – getting the balance right

Scaling up any business requires the introduction of structure to ensure that growth is manageable and maintainable.

Until now you may have been ‘bootstrapping’ your way to success, deploying minimum viable product (MVP) and prioritising fast results over internal process. But the work-arounds that were fine for your first hundred customers won’t be sustainable when you scale to 1,000 or 10,000 so it’s important to understand which business processes are going to be crucial.

While your team may understand the need for process changes, they are still likely to struggle with the extra burden, so when you introduce more structure to their everyday workload make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Agussol advises “there is a difference between adding structure for the good of the business and adding structure purely for control. Nobody wants to be tied down by unnecessary process. As a rule of thumb, if a process doesn’t make things better or faster, then consider whether you need it at all.”

Hire people who are better than you

When employees are empowered to own their roles, your company will ultimately benefit. When hiring, always find the best that you can and hire people who are experts in their field.

Patrick Drake, co-founder of leading recipe box service HelloFresh says: “You’ve got to have the confidence to hire people who are as good, or better, than you. Some people have a tendency to be insecure about their ability or position and will hire below them to avoid being shown up – but doing that will be the death of your company.”

“Every time someone joins HelloFresh they are told “the reason you are here, is because you are better than us at what you do. You are a leader, please lead” and that’s changed the game for us.”

Communicating change

The changes that inevitably come with scaling up a business can cause some tension amongst your most valuable employees.

To tackle any difficulties head-on it’s important to keep communication lines open. Agussol advises “if you’re in any doubt, always over-communicate as much as you can – people appreciate being kept in the loop and you’ll soon figure out how much information is the right amount.”

Above all, treat your employees well. If you look after them, they will look after you. There’s an old proverb that sums up the experience of running a scale-up perfectly: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It’s really important to bring people on the journey with you.”

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