Smart Startups: Outsource Your People Ops at First.

You are a startup founder, or an early hire at a company that is lucky enough to be growing — fast.

At first, hiring was easy because you tapped your network, but now, as the focus starts to shift towards scalability your team must deal with a term in startup-landia that is oft shuddered at:

Human Resources.

Or, get snazzy, take a page from Google’s playbook and call it People Ops.

Whatever nomenclature you use, the point is at some phase of your startup’s’ growth, you’ll need:

People People.

These People People will do important things like build out your hiring process, make sure employees and contractors are properly codified (IC, versus EE, versus hourly), and generally build People Operations’ best practices so you can focus on what your startup really needs — which I doubt is HRinfrastructure.

The blind leading the blind…

Most startup founders and teams I meet with are best in class at some amazing things — but rarely is it People Operations which encompasses hiring, building recruiting into your DNA, HR best practices (both compliance and good sense) and structuring your org so individual contributors are set up for success.

So it seems like a good idea to go onto Angel List, Linkedin or ZipRecruiter and post an opening for a Head of People, Recruiter, Director of HR, etc. Then find an experienced People Person to do all of this. But, you are taking a HUGE risk, because as a first time, or highly technical, founder you may not have the basis on which to truly evaluate:

(a) if this the RIGHT role
(b) if this the BEST candidate.

You can look at their track record, but one of the best explanations why that is riddled with folly comes from Aline, founder of Interview.io in her epic blog post on the subject:

“The second and much more important reason not to blindly hire out of tech giants is the importance of scrappiness and hustle in this hire. If you work as a recruiter at Google, you’re basically plugged into the matrix. You have a ready made suite of tools that make it much easier to be successful. You have a database of candidates who have previously interviewed that spans a huge portion of the engineering population. Email discovery is easier. Reaching out to people is easier because you have templates that have been proven to work to rely on. And you can lean on the Google brand as a crutch…

Contrast this setup with being the very first person in the recruiting org. You have no tools. You have no templates. You probably have no brand. You probably have, well, jack shit. You need someone who’s going to think critically about tooling and balance the need for tooling with a shoestring budget, especially in a space where most tooling has a price tag of at least $1K per month. You’re going to need someone whose methods are right for your particular situation rather than someone who does things because that’s just how they’ve always been done.”

Why the CEO owning all hiring isn’t always the best bet…

Kenn Peters, who currently heads up People at Dubsmash and acts as an HR advisor for startups, put it well:

“CEO’s of startups are stressed out trying to find good talent, and it’s only natural to go about using your own network as a place to start. I find this creates both short and long term problems: in the short-term, you end up hiring a friend, with a similar life and work experience of your own; diversity suffers. Diversity is valuable not because it makes you look good, but because it makes you perform well: diversity of thought enables you to come to creative, outside-the-box business solutions. And in the long-term: have fun trying to hire your friend a boss, as opposed to giving them a promotion.

Startup CEO’s are generally good at finding people and recruiting them, and really bad at growing and keeping their employees. Why? Because recruitment, like a project, can be hacked. You can’t “hack” true HR. You can’t hack a career ladder or an employee growth plan.

Where I come in for startups, as a tech HR consultant, it’s sort of an in-between: you don’t need a VP of People who has been pushing payroll receipts for the last ten years and thinking about org development when you’re 15 people. But, you also can’t hire too junior: every hire from 1–200 is imperative to a startup, and they’ll impact the business in a noticeable way. You need someone who understands how to build teams, with the future in mind, and not just put butts in seats.”

One solution…

As a former venture-backed founder, and now the managing partner of firm that helps startups with People Operations — specifically hiring — I’ve gotten to see both sides of the curtain.

Bringing in a dispassionate expert in HR, recruiting infrastructure and People Ops early enough to help guide the leadership team and set up processes is a major lever more founders should be taking advantage of.

You can fast-forward through a bunch of painful, basic HR-learnings, set up processes that scale, and have this expert begin the hunt for the full time head of HR or Talent that will take your company from 25 to 250.

Now, finding this person, or hiring a firm, is also important. Again, track records don’t always spell success—but you can find out a lot about talking to people they’ve worked with in the past and asking them for a list of successful HR/People Ops systems they’ve built out, intro’s to the founders they worked with, and a list of who they’ve helped hire.

When it comes to Recruiting and People Operations, results are what matter, and it’s hard to B.S. those if you dig a bit.


If you need help hiring, check out my firm AVRA, we build and operate Recruiting Ecosystems for growing businesses!