Accelerating Productivity While Avoiding Burnout At A Startup

Accelerating Productivity While Avoiding Burnout At A Startup

Accelerating Productivity


Accelerating Productivity

Startups are notorious for high levels of pressure and long days. With the pace of growth in the technology industry, the level of competition for funding and the never ending process of testing and pivoting, operating with a high level of productivity is paramount to both the company’s success and its survival. While this is well known to both the founders and employees of startups, there are many instances where expectations for productivity may be set too high. Even for top talent, it is important to remember that one person can only achieve so much in a given time. And if you push too hard and expect too much, you may actually end up holding back your own progress. So how does a startup manage to go about accelerating productivity while avoiding employee burnout?

Hire the Right People

Not everyone can or wants to work for a startup. Narrowing down the scope of skill sets and experience you need is only the first step towards finding the right people. Although the above are necessary prerequisites, finding the right cultural fit, passion for the work, and necessary level of endurance is equally important. And make sure the people you hire know what they are taking on. The last thing you need is a hire who is not expecting the long hours, stressful deadlines and unexpected pivots. A lot of people want to work for startups, but not everyone wants the stress that goes along with it. Be mindful of how critical you are when hiring though. Weeding out the wrong candidates will take time, but if you find yourself without anyone promising after a month or two, you may want to determine whether your expectations for top talent are realistic or not.

Establish Realistic and Achievable Timelines

Put significant effort towards accurate and detailed planning early on. Without the right goals and timelines in place, your employees can end up getting burned out due to unrealistic timelines or putting focus on unnecessary tasks. Yes, your employees will put in the long hours and undergo stressful times, but optimizing their productivity only goes so far if they are distracted or the benchmarks are unachievable. Timelines can be difficult to create early on because so much is nearly guaranteed to change, and there is only so much you can know going in. To better plan, get advice and second opinions from former founders, startup employees, and advisors on creating realistic timelines and benchmarks.

Be Realistic About What One Person Can Do

Even A-players can only produce so much. No level of planning, pay, or passion can push your employees past their limits. It is important to realize that every employee has an optimal level of output, and that more time does not always equal more production. The amount of work an employee can get through is a product of the time spent working and the level of productivity for each hour. This means that at a certain point, an additional hour of work will actually lead to less production. While this holds true for everyone, the maximum amount of work that can be completed within a given period differs for everyone. Planning ahead is important in managing this, but careful monitoring and a certain level of trial and error will also come into play. Make an effort to monitor your employees’ physical and mental health over time, and take notice of any significant changes in attitude, energy levels, or physical appearance.

Create a Place Where People Want to Be

Finally, work towards building a fun workplace that encourages employees, maintains a positive environment, and allows employees to enjoy the process. Startups can be stressful places to work, but your employees are there to experience the journey, to be a part of something new and to follow their own passions. It can be hard work, but the people who succeed at startups again and again are there because they are working on projects that will have a real impact on the world around them. They are ready to work hard, should understand the goals that their work supports, and should naturally enjoy being a part of the work. Reinforce this mentality, and you will see even better results. A positive enviroment and mentality can push productivity a long way.

Don’t Get Tunnel Vision: Setting Salaries that Attract Top Talent

Don’t Get Tunnel Vision: Setting Salaries that Attract Top Talent

Setting Salaries

Setting Salaries

I worked with a startup client in recent months who was in search of a senior level Java developer. Early on, they set their expectations for what competitive compensation looked like, determining that the market should be yielding $110K – $115K for high level candidates.  In reality, the going rate for senior level Java developers in their region started at $130K, with some markets yielding as high as $200K for the right talent. Despite this information, the company was insistent that the offering would attract what they needed.

For startups, this is a common mental pitfall, and can be a difficult one to escape.  Companies will take one data point from an existing candidate or employee, and latch on to that number as the basis for their offering. Although this may reflect an accurate offering, there are many instances where this data point is based on an underpaid employee or a less experienced candidate. For cash-strapped emerging companies, it can be difficult to stray away from a low number once the expectations are set. Founders can easily get anchored to an attractive number that is unreasonable in reality. Yet for today’s startup, trying to attract needed top talent while competing with a below market rate can ultimately lead to failure.

Sometimes, companies get tunnel vision because of an unreasonable data point. Yet many founders simply have difficulty determining the market rate for the talent that they need.  After all, too low of an offering simply won’t attract what you need, but too high an offering can be a waste of resources, and in itself can also cause some candidates to opt out.

Thus, the real question: How do you set your salary offering to get the talent you need?

1. Research setting salaries for comparable positions: This makes sense as a starting point, since this almost literally defines the ‘market rate.’ Be sure to look into positions requiring the skill sets, technology exposure, and experience level that your company requires.

2. Research the going rate in the job’s locations: The salary for a senior level Java developer in Kansas City will be dramatically lower than one in Palo Alto.  Even within the internal geography of the Bay Area, there will be salary differences based on location.

3. Ask your candidates: The talent that you already interact with can be a great source of data. Gather information about what they make with their current work and what they are seeking at their next venture. If you can get a straight answer, you can also inquire about other positions that they are researching and/or applying to, and put research around the compensation for those positions.

4. Consider what it will take to lure top talent away from their current position: The fact is that top talent is rarely out of work. Thus, your market for top performing employees is mostly passive, and has the option to simply stay where they are. Although salary is only a small factor in choosing work among top talent in most cases, especially for those looking to work at startups, it remains a component that affects every candidate’s decisions nonetheless.

5. Compare what you can afford to the importance and long term impact of the position: As mentioned, emerging companies are inherently strapped for cash. Yet early on, any new hire will have a significant impact on the bottom line and on both the short and long term growth of the organization. This should not be a strong factor in setting salaries, but may help you determine whether you are hiring for the right position at a given time.

You may be cringing at the market rate that you just recalculated. But consider this: If you don’t get top performing talent with the right skills and experience for your needs, what kind of damage will that do to your startup’s progress in the long term? If your compensation doesn’t compete in the talent marketplace, you will have difficulty getting what you need, and hinder your company’s growth.  So don’t anchor yourself to a number, and stay open minded. Get multiple data points from a variety of sources, and figure out where you fit within that mix. And if you still have trouble justifying the cost for the benefits of the position, then you might want to reconsider the hire altogether. After all, your company’s talent will be its most valuable resource and its highest yielding investment.

Startups: Passionate Employees Are Essential

Startups: Passionate Employees Are Essential

Passionate Employees

Every day, I wake up, and love being an entrepreneur. It’s what I’m passionate about, and drives me to push through obstacles, pour my heart into my work, and drive companies forward. I can’t imagine doing a lot of the things I’ve been involved with if I weren’t passionate about them. I’ve been involved in successful projects and failed ones. There were never guarantees, and the risk is always high when approaching uncharted territory. But the reward has always been living a fulfilling life.

Passion Is An Absolute Necessity

I think that having passion for my work is critical, and believe that this is true of anyone who works for a startup. I’ve said it to candidates that I’ve interviewed, businesses I’ve partnered with, and companies I’ve hired for. At a startup, every hire is critical. The work that your early employees are doing will make or break the bottom line. Passion is critical for the success of these early hires, and as a result, your startup; here’s why.

It’s Hard Work

Startups are notorious for long, stressful hours. Your employees should know this going in. The passionate employees will put in those hours, because they believe in the cause and where you’re going. They are doing more than just working; they are following their dreams.

Cash Will Be Tight

Every startup will have cash flow issues at some point, and will rarely have the capital that they think they need early on. Founders must watch and evaluate every dollar spent, and early employees will have to work for lower salaries and sweat equity. There may even be days when cash is strapped and your company can’t make payroll. Employees with passion will work for the lower pay in the short term in exchange for the long term payout. They are working with you to achieve long term goals and be a part of something bigger.

Change Is Inevitable

At some point, it is likely that your startup will have to pivot in some way. You will change directions, will need to do so on a moment’s notice, and will have to bust your ass to get it done. Employees with passion will do what it takes and change when needed, because they are emotionally invested in the success of the company.

You Will Encounter Failures

It’s a hard reality, but the fact is most startups fail. All of them encounter roadblocks, obstacles, and dead ends. There are no guarantees for an emerging organization. Passionate employees will stand by your side despite the risk, because in the end, they are there for the experience, regardless of the outcome.

When Employees Lack Your Passion

At a startup, there are so many things that can and do happen. Things go in one direction or another. You may have issues with funding, difficulties with technology, absurd deadlines, employee departures… or a million other things go wrong unexpectedly. And I have noticed something about startup employees who are not invested in the company’s success. When the going gets tough, the people without passion take off. In the challenging times, their focus shifts to the money, their career or job security, or anything except working through the challenges ahead. And at a stage where every hire is critical and affects revenue, an employee departure can shake an emerging company and hold back progress.

Identifying Passion In Your Hires

So how do you know if a person has the passion you need? In my experience, the traditional interview doesn’t quite uncover that information for you. You need to go deeper than testing their skills and knowledge, deeper than the behavioral screenings and tests of logic. You have to dig into their past, their experiences, and the motivations behind them. Find out what they value and care about. What makes them happy? What do they get excited about? What leaves them fulfilled in life? It’s more than just getting answers to these questions though. It’s just as much about how they say their answers as the answers themselves.

Sometimes, Your Gut Is The Best Reference

Sometimes, you have to ask the right questions, and dig into a person to uncover the truth. But other times, passion is just something that you can see in a person’s eyes, hear in their voice, and see in their actions. Sometimes, in your gut, you just know. It’s what I have found in my experience and has served me well, not only for my own hires and businesses, but for the hundreds of people that my firm has placed at startups. However you do it, you will be thankful that you did. Because those employees, the ones with the passion like your own, are the ones who stick around, work hard, and will drive the success of your company.

Amish is the Founder/CEO of the premier executive search firm for the high-tech industry, Millennium Search LLC. He is an investor and advisor to many startups around the globe. He is also a crowdfunding expert, personally managing and advising Kickstarter campaigns that have successfully funded and received major press. 

Sales Reps & Startups: Too Much of a Good Thing

Sales Reps & Startups: Too Much of a Good Thing

Sales Reps & Startups

Sales Reps & Startups

Something I’ve come across all too frequently is the young company who, in an effort to scale, hires too many salespeople in a short time frame. After what is always a difficult process of raising funds, this tech startup quickly jumps into building a large sales force. Yet the company often does so without considering its ability to support this expansion, nor does it predict the consequences of hiring too many, too quickly.

I first encountered this issue years ago while working at a tech startup. Sales were growing strong in the Northeast and the company was looking to expand. With the assumption that existing success could be replicated in other regions, the management team began hiring sales reps in California, Texas, Florida, and Chicago. But what seemed like a sound decision ended up holding back progress over the next few years. In reality, the business couldn’t support such a rapid expansion of its sales force.

Now, as a recruiter for tech startups, I see this happen repeatedly. When building a new sales team, startups should determine if they are expanding too quickly, and consider the impact of such a move. The way a business scales its sales team impacts the success of those hires, and affects how you allocate resources in other important areas of the organization.

Hiring too many sales people early on will have an impact first and foremost on the success of the hires themselves. The notion of building a larger sales team often fails to account for the ability of the business to handle such a large addition of employees. The issues begin with the capacity for the company to train these employees, which is a large undertaking, even for a small sales team. This especially comes into play for the early stage startup, where the product and strategy may lack full conceptualization or definition. In such conditions, it will be difficult to shape a single sales rep, much less an entire team.

The management of a large sales force early on can prove difficult as well. With no prior learning experience to draw from, and a relatively young support and management staff, addressing critical issues with the sales team can be incredibly challenging. Working through obstacles with a small team early on allows for lessons to be passed on to future hires, and for more senior salespeople to become mentors in the long run.

And don’t forget the impact that scaling your sales force too soon can have on that group’s quality results over the long term. Early stage startups know too well that their early hires need to be top performers. And for sales professionals, top talent is drawn to where the action is. Yet startups must work hard in the beginning to generate demand and awareness for their product or service. If there isn’t enough demand to go around, what could have been your top performers might jump ship for better opportunities.

The financial impact of unnecessary hiring is apparent for early stage startups. In a process that is already time and resource intensive, attracting the right talent can be difficult early on, and can result in even higher costs. Given the financial constraints that most tech startups face, wasting capital on unnecessary hires can have a significant impact. An unnecessary hire also means that the hiring manager’s time is wasted, along with the training party’s time.

Beyond the direct cost of hiring, consider the opportunity cost of unnecessary hires. The capital needed for both hiring and paying employees is obvious, but consider where that capital could have been better utilized. Early stage startups have several areas of business that require focus and resources. Using resources in one area often means sacrificing in other facets of the business early on. Scaling a large sales team can be a distraction from other areas that should be receiving the focus otherwise. Consider what your hiring and training manager could have been working on had they not been focused on unnecessary hires. Consider where else the capital put towards hiring would have gone otherwise, and the returns that could have been made. It may seem like a sales team lacking in size would hinder your growth, but so can a lack of development and progress in other areas.

Looking back on my time with my former employer’s tech startup, a more pragmatic approach early on could have saved them valuable resources. Perhaps adding a single additional location or vertical would have improved the development of the company’s business structure. Rather than hiring 15 new sales reps, they could have expanded more slowly, focused on branching into a single marketplace, and used the knowledge from those successful expansions to provide direction in new markets in the future. They also could have avoided the unnecessary hiring and subsequent loss of several sales professionals, leaving themselves with resources to be used elsewhere. Had there been more focus on minimal hires rather than a larger team, the company could have focused on hiring the right quality and fit for their needs.

Hiring too many salespeople in the early stage of a company can have an effect on several aspects of the business. The number of people you need and the timeline for hiring will vary from startup to startup, but the benefits of maintaining a practical hiring pace will be apparent, regardless of the company.

Steady growth allows for executives to gradually monitor the needs of a sales team and adjust accordingly. As I have experienced, expanding too quickly can cause an unnecessary waste of resources. Early stage tech startups should focus on the quality of salespeople hired, and not necessarily the quantity. Hiring top sales people at a steady pace can not only help ensure the substantial growth of a quality sales team, but can save a company time and money in the long run.

Mark Cergol, a senior executive recruiter at Millennium Search, has over 20 years of experience in software sales. Working with a variety of companies, including early to mid-stage startups and large publicly traded organizations, Mark has developed a deep understanding of the tech industry. The knowledge and network of long-term relationships Mark has built through the years gives him an edge on the competition, making him a top recruiter for technical sales and marketing positions.

Startups: When Acquiring Top Talent, Speed is Everything

Startups: When Acquiring Top Talent, Speed is Everything

Acquiring Top Talent

Acquiring Top Talent

It’s no secret that your tech startup has many critical hires to make. Without the right talent in place, your work remains unfinished, and your company is not moving forward. But because the job market in tech is so hot, demand for top performers is high and rising, especially from young companies. And with market conditions the way they are, the time it takes for companies acquiring top talent continues to increase. Because of these conditions, startups must be prepared to move to secure the talent they need. Yet too often, startups fail to act quickly enough to hire effectively. Finding the right people for your needs is critical, but if you are lacking an efficient interview and hiring process, you may be hindering your own efforts and preventing your company’s growth. But fear not; there are many factors you can address to help shorten your hiring time.

Why Startups Take Too Long To Hire

Why might a tech startup employ a lengthy hiring process? Many companies begin hiring without a clear enough sense of their own needs, or conversely try to be too thorough when vetting potential hires. Another common reason results from expectations that are set too high, and the desire to hold out for better options. Because the hire is so critical, the vision of the perfect candidate creates an unrealistic comparison to real candidates. Hiring inefficiency also arises from issues of uncertainty and the second guessing of opinions and judgments on the part of the company. And for some startups, it simply comes from issues with budgetary constraints or the timing of the hire.

The Results of A Lengthy Hiring Process

All of the above are real issues that startups face, and should not be discounted as excuses in any way. Regardless, lengthy hiring tends to yield the same results, despite the reasoning. For starters, your company is most likely not your candidates’ only prospect. Failure to move quickly with candidates that meet your needs can result in a loss to competing companies. This holds especially true for candidates who are more active in their job search, but is not necessarily excluded from passive professionals. Elongated hiring time can also convey a perceived lack of interest, or may signal poor functionality or management within the organization. In either situation, the time, money and energy put towards hiring is wasted unnecessarily. Additional resources must be allocated to compensate, which means they must be taken away from other areas of your startup that require focus. And Ultimately, a failure to make your critical hires due to lengthy hiring means the work is left undone, and your startup’s progress is further hindered.

How to Help Decrease Your Hiring Time

There are several things that hiring startups can do to shorten their interview process with confidence. To start, realize that perfection does not exist. Searching for something unrealistic is a huge time suck, and will rarely, if ever, yield results. Second, establish what you actually need, and distinguish between your needs and wants for the hire. And focus on evaluating candidates based on what your needs are, rather than comparing to what may come along in the future. There is always the potential for a better fit to come along, but don’t let the potential for better in the future sway your judgement in evaluating potential hires today. And finally, trust your gut. Be assertive, and remember that you know what you need. Make judgments with confidence, and trust the opinions of other interviewers.

Startups: Don’t Take So Long!

Hiring is stressful, especially for a small company. It takes a great deal of energy, time and money. It takes those resources away from other areas that need focus. And its impact will be felt throughout the organization in more ways than one. It is also work that can make the greatest impact on your organization’s success. This is all the more reason to do it efficiently and effectively from the start. None of the above implies that you must make sacrifices on your core needs, nor should you discount the importance of cultural fit or experience. What it does imply is that when making critical hires, startups must be realistic, plan ahead, and act when needed. And for a startup, every hire is critical.

Kathy Gwozdz has been in the recruiting industry for over 15 years. She has a diverse background in Contingency, Corporate and Contract recruiting, working directly with candidates and clients at a high level. Her determination and zeal in finding the ideal person for the right opportunity makes her continuously successful in placing top talent.

Creating Effective Job Postings

Creating Effective Job Postings

Effective Job Postings

For many startups, a strong focus on hiring is crucial. Yet, crafting well written job postings for your positions is often considered mundane and left on the back burner. We all agree a company’s employees are its greatest investment, and have a major impact on every aspect of the business. And yet many job ads come up short, inadequately targeting the people that startup companies really need. Great care must be taken to attract the right people to your company, and that starts with the job posting. Effective job postings should attract the right pool of clients, which means less work filing through tons of possibly insignificant resumes.

The only way to truly know if a job description is effective is to test numerous variations and see which ones attract the right type of candidate. In addition to testing, following some basic guidelines can help you start off on the right foot. Job postings have 3 main sections: the job title, the company description and the job description. Creating and writing these three sections effectively leads to an easier time finding the right hire.

Job Title

The title is the first impression of any job posting. Not only is it important to catch the candidate’s eye, but titles play a huge role in the amount of click-through a job posting will get. In addition to drawing attention and convincing people to click, titles should also convince someone to take further action in pursuing the job. The title should be very specific to the role, describe the job’s goal and also inspire pride in the work. This should be executed in a way that fits your company’s culture. For example, Google allows some employees to come up with their own titles. While this approach might not be right for everyone, there are pros and cons to the different types of titles.

Traditional titles – such as VP of Sales or Office Manager- define the position, responsibility and hierarchy in the company. Titles like these have the benefit of keeping consistency among companies and industries. Some companies have started using more creative titles which emphasize personality and uniqueness of the position and person you desire. For example, companies might use Software Rockstar instead of Software Engineer or Director of First Impressions instead of Receptionist. These titles are catchy, but need to also be descriptive and informative. In addition, over-inflated titles can lead to confusion and resentment among your employees. The thing to keep in mind is the title needs to have meaning and reflect the company culture. Be sure to test different titles in order to ensure effectiveness in attracting the right candidate, especially if you plan on frequently hiring for this role.

Company Description

After the title, it is important to describe your company in a way to encourage the right people to work there. You should appear confident about your company, using positive words and language, as well as emphasize any recognition you have received. Are you award-winning, a leader in the industry or global? Are you breaking new ground, or diving into a lot of interesting things? In addition to making your company stand out, you should emphasize why an employee would want to work there. What is unique about your company? Think about what would make someone want to leave their current job and come work for you. Mentioning company benefits would be a good start. This doesn’t have to be an exclusive list, but could include things like flexibility, job growth and development. While your description of the company should be positive, it needs to stay realistic. Providing a realistic preview leads to less employee turnover because candidates already know what to expect.

Job Description

Finally, the most important aspect of the job posting is the actual job description itself. This information will help a candidate determine if he or she is the correct person for the job. The basic information to include in the job description would be the job responsibilities, realistic job preview and credentials required. Information should also be included about how frequently the employee will be interacting with others, types of supervision, and how the job relates to the rest of the company. As with the company description, it is important to keep the job description realistic. Unrealistic or overly-positive descriptions may encourage under-experienced or less-talented candidates to apply.

Being specific about the position’s tasks and responsibilities can easily weed out people who are not qualified. You should specify languages, equipment and programs that will be utilized and how familiar the candidate needs to be with them. Unclear adverbs or adjectives such as “frequently” or “on several occasions” should be avoided. In order to get a good understanding of what you’re looking for, ask people who have had or currently have that same position.

Specifying which candidates’ qualifications are non-negotiable, which are preferred, and which are only on the “wish list”, allows the candidate to see where they stand. There is no need to mention the fact that you’re looking for someone with good communication skills or someone who is hardworking. You should expect any reasonable candidate to have these skills. Instead, focus on the very specific and differentiating skills you are looking for.

General Tips for creating effective Job Postings:

  • Write everything in present tense
  • Don’t be afraid to explain or clarify specific tasks or requirements
  • Structure sentences so gender does not have to be mentioned
  • Use old  effective job postings as a reference for where to begin, especially if they attracted the right employee
  • Company culture should be evident your job and company descriptions. Be sure to accurately describe your company’s values, structure and work environment

Even after crafting the perfect job description, the best way to know whether or not your job posting is working is to test it. Try different phrases, keywords and descriptions and see which ones bring in the best candidates. After the job description is complete, it is important to post the jobs in the right spot or distribute them through the correct channel. Remember, it’s not about attracting a lot of candidates; it’s about attracting the best candidates for the job.

Let Millennium search help you find the right candidate for the job

Rouser, Meisha. Creating a Compelling Job Description. Jan 21, 2013.
Kelman, Amy. The Perfect Hire starts with the Perfect Job Posting. Feb 25, 2013

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