Entrepreneurs, there is a 90% chance you’ll fail if you don’t get this right.

So you’ve raised your seed, or have gotten enough traction to bootstrap your own growth. Congratulations! You’ve hit mile marker one in a very long race, but don’t break out the bubbly just yet…

As a veteran of both venture-backed and bootstrapped startups, I’ve seen (and experienced) the good, the bad, and the fugly over the last decade. The bad news? That startup life is HARD, yo.

The good news? There is an HR hack that few companies implement early on—the ones who nail it are far more likely to succeed. The ones who don’t figure it out will fail.

The (Hiring) Essentials

These five essential elements of hiring the best people for the right roles will make or break your startup. You may be able to get away with not having a few of these essentials for a while, but it’s the business equivalent of getting away with living on candy + energy drinks; you may stay “healthy” for a while, but eventually it’ll catch up to you and, when it does, look out:

1. A Hiring Roadmap.

This boring-sounding pillar of good human resource professionals everywhere gives your company’s leadership a clear sense of the cost and time it will take to fill needed roles so you can reach quarterly/yearly goals and metrics. A hiring roadmap is vital for proper budgeting and it’s a realistic understanding of when you need to begin the recruiting process (usually far earlier than you think). Plus, a good hiring roadmap is vital if you plan on raising more money.


2. Setting up and optimizing an ATS.

A…T… Say what? Alas, the world of recruiting is not known for our tantalizing wordplay.

ATS is shorthand for an applicant tracking system. A properly set up ATS and career page on your site are important to have in place because successful companies are always hiring, even when they aren’t actively filling a role.

There are hundreds of systems out there, some are robust, others are streamlined, most are absolute garbage—but a few are affordable and get the job done. Internally, AVRA uses Breezy, which, so far, has been the best lightweight ATS we’ve found. It’s like the Toyota Camry of applicant tracking systems: affordable, not a lot of bells and whistles, but gets you from point A to point B safely.

Being disciplined when it comes to choosing and maintaining your ATS is critical for:

  • A healthy recruiting ecosystem
  • Not losing good candidates who slip through the cracks
  • A Rolodex of referrals and future candidates at your fingertips


3. Great Job Descriptions.

A great job description tells a story. It paints a picture of your startup’s mission and vision, drawing the right candidates in while turning off the wrong ones. A great job description explains why the role exists, what qualities are needed on a personal level, and what competencies are required on a professional one.

Most of the time, especially for first time founders, job descriptions are thrown together based on a google search of “X role job description” or cut and paste something from SHRM. It’s not bad to get inspiration from other startup’s job descriptions, but just like you wouldn’t cut and paste another company’s core values or mission, it’s vital to spend the time crafting great job descriptions for each role.

Here’s an example of a job description for AVRA’s Visual Design Intern: https://goo.gl/35ZLkK


4. Tailored Interview Questions.

Application review is pointless at the top of the hiring funnel. This is one of the single biggest hiring sins I see founders and hiring managers alike commit. Instead of wasting your time looking at applications and guessing who may be a good fit, make the applicant do the initial legwork for you.

You can screen out subpar candidates through thoughtful questions. It’s amazing how many applicants will fall off in the written question phase, but these same bastions of mediocrity may make it to a phone call if you were ONLY judging on their resume.

You want a candidate that wants you—at least enough to answer a few written questions before they speak to someone whose time is valuable. Additionally, tailored questions will help bubble up the 10-20% of initial applicants who may be great.

5. Standardized Scorecards. 

People are biased, emotional creatures. This makes deciding on the truly “right” candidate hard because of our unconscious stereotypes and implicit associations. The solution is creating standardized scorecards so each person involved in the interviewing process is able to make more objective determinations about the applicant’s suitability.

Important for:


What some of the smartest entrepreneurs say about hiring…

Any founder or investor worth their salt will tell you people are your most important asset, regardless what you “make”. It’s one of those cliches that is repeated so often it begins to fall on deaf ears, but setting yourself up for success when it comes to hiring the right people, especially early on, is absolutely vital to your startup’s long-term success.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings. Other impacts include:

  • Lost opportunity
  • Cultural impact
  • Management burden

But don’t listen to just me…


“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people not on strategies.”— Lawrence Bossidy


“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” — Bill Gates


“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” — Jim Collins


“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”  — Red Adair


These are just the essentials. After you set up the basics, you need to be disciplined about managing the process or it’s all for naught.

This isn’t easy, but it’s important. It’s the reason I started AVRA because we saw a gap in the market between in-house recruiting teams that only larger companies can afford and traditional commission-based recruiters (that frankly few founders ever *enjoy* working with). AVRA just launched a product called The Essentials that builds out each piece of the above for startups for a flat, very reasonable price. If you’re reading this and think, “Damn I need that, but I’m so busy”—now you have no excuse!