Scaling a startup beyond the founding team

Starting up is not easy. Even if you were to take the leap of faith, it is altogether another challenge to convince people to believe in your vision.

Truth be told, in the initial few days, a startup’s biggest brand is the founder or the founding team. Based on the founder’s standing in the industry, the first few employees can be lured to take the plunge. While the ‘network’ is good enough for the take off, the actual ‘flight’ is where the problem lies. The real challenge is to scale the team.

How can one really scale after reaching the threshold of hiring through personal networking? How do you sell your story to people who do not know you? What does it take to really build a solid team? Where do you hunt for them? These are questions that plague entrepreneurs. Here are some of the lessons that we have learnt in our journey

Moving from start up to scale up

  • Hire for potential rather than the technical description of an ‘ideal’ employee. One must also be open to experiment.
  • Keep a story ready; a story that will resonate with these target hires. Why should they join a small startup? What will it give them? Is it worth taking the risk? Will they be a part of something that will be game changing? You really need to sell your vision.
  • Focus on hiring young talent who tick some crucial boxes—passion, potential, ability to learn, and culture fit. We figured we could teach everything else. The other trick to scaling up is—think simple, do not overcomplicate the process.

Based on these initial thoughts, we went about scouting for hires across engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu. It turned out to become our biggest source of talent acquisition. We found candidates who were willing to learn, experiment, and soon lead their own teams. We not only found talented engineers but we also hit upon gems who were great at sales, content, and marketing. The lesson here was to trust our guts and hire freshers who had an entrepreneurial mindset, rather than search for highly experienced talent. At that stage of our journey, these youngsters were the right bet to make.

Over time, your brand gains a bit of a recognition, your brand name sells. Referrals then become great way to hire. We have hired a lot of talented folks, thanks to referrals.

Hiring for the leadership team

One of the biggest challenge for any start up, is bringing on board mid and senior level leadership. Over the past year, we have had a number of senior level hires across all functions. While we set out to look for the best functional leaders, we largely focused on their culture fitment. At that level, subject matter expertise is a given.  But, whether or not they fit into the Freshworks work culture will make a huge difference. Multiple rounds of interviews went into figuring just that.

Money isn’t everything

What we have also realised is that money cannot be the only factor that motivates the person to join you. There needs to be a higher cause, a bigger challenge that only you can offer. The candidate must feel excited to be a part of a mission. Any other company can offer a more competitive salary or give better perks.

Money is important, but cannot be the only factor in clinching a prized leader.

Our hiring journey over the past eight or so years has been a great learning curve. From a small office with a handful of colleagues in a quiet locality called Keelkattalai in Chennai, to a sprawling office with around 2000 employees, it has been a ride worth remembering. 

To learn more about hiring for your startup, fostering an engaged workforce, and developing a strong corporate culture, listen to Suman speak on the Freshthoughts Podcast here