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6 solutions to my recruitment problem (but it’s still a problem)

Photo from BeauDacious blog on wordpress

As I said I learned during my week at Web Summit, I don’t want to be the next Apple, I just want to pay the bills. I want to be good at my job and create a product of value and inclusivity, that I feel passionate about.

So how does an early stage startup that is more of a reliable mule than a unicorn of the future attract people to join it?

The fiasco of my first hire-n-fire taught me a lot, but in the end I am still in the same position- not enough hands on deck to optimise the opportunity in my pipeline for growth.

It’s frustrating to see the lead generation front end of the pipeline bulging and the trickle of paid-up customers coming out the other end. It’s a common startup challenge to have too many jobs to do, struggle to focus and prioritise, and still try and find time to recruit, and recruit well.

Just about everyone I meet and discuss this common conundrum with has a different suggestion for addressing it. The 6 solutions I hear the most include:

  • Go out and kiss a lot of frogs at meetups, networking events, through co-founder “dating” sites, until you find someone who fits not only the job to be done but also gels with your personality and values.

This is a tall order! Kissing frogs also seems a super-inefficient way to go about this as well. I just want to sit down and talk to someone briefly and be very frank about where I am, what I am trying to do, and how I see an arrangement working, and hear back from them. I figure we can pretty quickly determine if there is any point in exploring an arrangement further. This directness tends to throw people off. There seem to be some rules of engagement that requires some dancing around the issues or courting and game playing which I just cannot fathom. How to behave in these situations is a long overdue lesson I am still trying to learn.

For instance, a guy I had met at an event quite a while ago reached out recently to meet up and discuss possibly joining forces. On the face of it it would have been a perfect match in terms of skills and capacity. But when we met up for that coffee the conversation was so cryptic and coded from his side that I couldn’t make head nor tails of what he was proposing or what his concerns were. He kept talking about being in competition with each other and having to be cagey so one of us didn’t run off and put the other out of business with the new information gleaned from a reckless disclosure in the conversation.

Clearly this behaviour in itself let me know that this would not be a good match for me in business, but apart from that it was a frustrating and unnecessary waste of time. And to be quite honest I couldn’t follow the rules of the game he seemed to be playing.

  • Skill swap with another founder in the same boat.

Love love love the idea of the skill swap and partnering up to help each other and balance each other out. Even while, or especially while, working on our individual endeavours.

This for me is the most frustrating and disappointing aspect of my journey so far. I come to these conversations full of enthusiasm and ideas for ways to make it work. What I find is that the person on the other side of the table has trouble trusting that this will be an equal arrangement, and is afraid of that sort of commitment. I am always gutted when these discussions fizzle out and come to nothing. I can’t seem to learn not to get my hopes up. I am always willing to put an agreement in writing, still to no avail. It’s the risk aversion that so often kills an idea, or a new business. C’mon people, let’s take a punt. If it doesn’t work out we can part ways and move on.

  • Outsource or offshore to get the work done at a bargain price.

My biggest hesitation with things like outsourcing and offshoring is how as a non-techie I would be able to ‘supervise’ the work and make judgements about its quality and value for money and time. Should X job really take that long? Has it been done properly? Is that a fair price to pay for it? How do I challenge that developer on that piece of work without any real professional credibility to do so? And so on… I’ve been burned on this once already, making me twice shy, which I will tell you about in my next story.

  • Learn to do more stuff yourself.

I have learned to do lots of stuff myself. More stuff and different stuff than I ever would have predicted going into this thing. It’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of this new journey. But the time it would take me to get to the skill level I would need to make a robust contribution to the business in some key areas (like the developing), that are currently lacking feels prohibitive. I have found someone who does admin hours as needed and I have worked with a trusted developer to do bits and pieces. But just like not feeling qualified to set out and manage an offshore or outsourced team, until I get that skill set it seems a bit of a risky stretch to rely on myself if I don’t even feel qualified to rely on someone else!

  • Get bigger investment to pay great wages to attract the right staff.

Attracting investment is of course a real catch-22. I have just had a response from a potential investor that my numbers in my financials are too slow to rise to the number they would like to see. I chose to make them conservative, thinking that under-promising and over-delivering beat doing the reverse. I figured getting the right skill and capacity on board will get the company there that much faster and delight us all in the end. It’s a forecast after all based on educated guesses for an early stage startup, so that forecast could be more optimistic. Perhaps I am just acting too cautiously, and ought to be more confident and a bit audacious and make the hockey-stick numbers climb fast and steep. If a more dramatic projection could attract investment it may also attract people keen to get in on the action early.

  • Buck up, give up sleep and anything else that ‘wastes’ time and build this thing until it either attracts big investment or grows so it can pay for itself (including those big market salaries).

And as far as bucking up- that is one thing perhaps that being a little older is not conducive to. Missing skill sets aside, forgoing sleep, living on take out pizza (though I wouldn’t mind trying that until I keeled over from poor nutrition), and living breathing eating the startup slog as though nothing else matters does get tougher.

Also, one thing age has forced me to realise is that there are lots of things that matter more than what I used to think mattered most. I am not willing to forget that lesson and give up those things.

Does this mean that startup life is not for me? That I am not destined or cut out for making this business work? I don’t believe so. Just as there have been pioneers in new ways that have come before that got us here in tech entrepreneur land, I have a vision for a way of making this thing float and grow that doesn’t require 24-hour working in a pizza and beer and coffee fuelled state. But I have learned I can’t do it alone. So my quest for capacity in some form and a partner or partners in crime continue.

I would love to hear your views about attracting people to your startup. What solutions have worked for you?

Next time I will talk about the tech team experiences I have had so far- one fantastic and why not having my own techie skill set didn’t matter, and one terrible and why it did.

This is the latest story in my series on how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the green heart.