I’ve been fortunate enough to have met and worked with hundreds of high-energy entrepreneurs in my career. Many of these great people have stayed connected with me throughout my entire 20+ year recruiting career. While, lots of various conversations and subjects have come up for debate and discussion over the years, the question I’m most consistently asked is, “How do I compete for talent with Amazon, Facebook or Google in my tiny, little start-up?” The answer is, you don’t.

A brilliant start-up recruiter once told me that if a candidate tells him he is “also interviewing with Google or Amazon or Facebook” in addition to his own tiny, little startup, he tells them they aren’t the right fit. He turns them down for the start-up first and here’s why…

If a candidate is considering one of the big dogs and they are actively engaged (being considered) in the interview process at one of those three or similar Fortune 50 companies, they likely don’t have the skills to help make your little company successful. Ben Horowitz, in my all-time favorite management book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” talks so informatively about how there is a big difference between leadership needs in a big company versus a small one.

If a candidate is as excited about working for Google as he is about your startup, you’re not going to be able to match their offer. While we all know you believe your startup is cooler than Google, not everyone shares this vision, especially when Google is going to pay 3 to 4 times more than you can possibly afford for the same talent. This doesn’t even take into account that there is a HUGE difference between people that are successful in big company “machines” and startups, where nothing happens unless you MAKE IT HAPPEN. So, save your breath! Save your precious time and energy and pass on these very enticing people. Let them go make the next Google Play or Google Drive and you can enjoy their efforts that way.

Sounds like giving up, you say? No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What matters and what you want to find, are the people that bond to your culture. The people that resonate with your vision, that you can fully trust, people that share your values around work and how to treat people, that will have your back in good times and more importantly, in tough times. If you believe that 70% of startups fail, you can’t afford anything less than this. If I’ve got your attention, let me say the #1 thing you can do is build a great culture to attract more great people that bond to your vision. The #2 thing you do is offer them what they want and need to have a great and rewarding life and career working for you. We’ll focus on the #1 step in this blog post.

How do I start? Let’s try a little reflection. Close your eyes and think about the best job you’ve ever had. What made it that way? What do you remember so vividly about this job that made it stand out in your mind?

Chance are you: 1) Liked the people 2) Were using a lot of your skills (and then some) 3)You felt appreciated for your efforts. GREAT! That feels so good. How can we then turn this into your culture so you’re happy and attract the kind of people you need to be successful?

First, Define your Culture

Get clear in your mind what you want your company to be known for, how it matches you and your vision. Start thinking about your values and beliefs on what makes a great company. There are so many great ones to model! Finally, a word on Glassdoor. Don’t make anything up! You have to be true to yourself and transparent. If you try to be something you aren’t people will call you out on it publicly so this authenticity is becoming a high-stakes game.

Determine who you need beside you

Hire people that are better than you. Your first hires need to be better and have more experience in their area of focus. Learn how to spot the best traits for a business development leader, an accountant, etc.

Hire people that have built a company from scratch. Find people that have built a company from infancy and grown it into a successful business. Find an equal number of people that have failed. Get curious, talk with them all and become an expert at patterns of successful traits. Allow history to repeat in a good way for your company.

Hire creativity over many other skills. You need to hire people great at creating solutions, initiating new tasks and initiating direction.

You also need to hire people that are flexible because starting something new requires people to experiment together and wear a lot of different hats or roles.

This concludes our first blog post, but if you enjoyed this, stay tuned for more. And remember, culture and hiring the right people can make or break your company. Take these ideas as seriously as you took the creation of your product idea, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be among the companies that made it.


-Jennie Ellis
Founder and Chief Talent Officer

Jennie Ellis

Posted by Jennie Ellis

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