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When Hiring, Hyper Growth and Haste Do Not Go Hand-in-Hand

Aseem Sood

Co-founder/CTO at OpenCollective

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Problem

The company wanted to build a world-class Product team. This meant maintaining a high bar to join the team (aka being very picky) and at the same time, bringing in enough candidates to grow the team substantially to support all the initiatives. We also wanted to maintain a lean ratio of PM to engineers. Typically consumer products have 1 PM for every ~2 - 6 engineers. Having worked with some of the best PMs, we knew that best PMs can support a lot more engineers and we were targeting closer to 1 PM per 10 engineers. Even with that, we needed to add 1-2 more PMs pronto and probably 3-5 PMs over the next year.

Actions taken

Since we only needed 1-2 PMs immediately, it didn't seem that hard a task. We added "Recruiting" as another task on our plate. The three current members of the Product team were responsible for bringing in referrals and setting up an interview slate for them. We carved out an interview process - selected internal interviewers, trained them on types of questions to ask, skills to assess, etc. There was a slow, irregular stream of candidates and none would make it through the process for one reason or another. Worst, whenever someone would be close to the end, we would lose momentum with other candidates - hoping that we have found the next member of the team. No surprise that 5 months later, we had yet to hire a single candidate.

To shake things up, we changed a few things. We recognized that in the medium-term, lack of PMs is among the biggest risks for the company. We made one person (me) responsible for PM recruiting and it was treated as my top priority (even above my product responsibilities). We also setup a weekly pipeline review meeting. The rest of the Product team would still need to own specific candidates but I'm responsible for moving things forward and holding people accountable. I set up a publicly viewable hiring pipeline (aka Excel file), with a list of candidates and their internal contact/owner. At each weekly meeting, we would review pipeline and figure out next steps. Things like: Alice needs to hear more about the vision for our company, let's set up time for her to chat with one of the founders. Or Jane is interested and wants to meet rest of the team, let's invite her to our weekly happy hour.

We also started tracking number of candidates at each level of the pipeline from week to week. That helped us figure out where we were losing them, where the friction was greatest and we could focus to improve that step. For example, we noticed that there was a big drop at the very end of the process. Essentially too many people had veto rights. We reworked the process to allow us to take a chance on candidates that weren't unanimously endorsed (with certain caveats).

Results: Within 3 months, we had 3 candidates join full-time on the team. Ironically, the company had grown so fast that this was still not enough... but that's a story for another time.

Lessons learned

  1. In a fast growing startup, you need an owner. Someone who is responsible and is held accountable by the larger org.
  2. We often think about user funnel from onboarding to becoming a daily active user. Same can be applied to recruiting pipeline (or sales pipeline). Setting up a structure gives you data at each step and lets you focus on where the biggest bang for the buck is.
  3. Public (within the company) review of important action items provides an enormous incentive for owners to keep on top of things and also conveys how important a particular task is.

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Aseem Sood

Co-founder/CTO at OpenCollective


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