Jul 13, 2021 • 15M

What do other founders know about recruiting that you don’t?

Compare how you recruit with ten fast-growing European startups.

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Robin Geers
Mistakes of experienced founders and practical tips on how to avoid them: hiring, sales and going global.
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👋 Hi, I’m Robin. I’m helping founders like you make better decisions to grow your company in less time.

Send me your questions, and in return, I’ll go on the road to interview founders of the fastest-growing European startups in my network.

To get the best hiring advice for startups in your mailbox, don’t forget to subscribe. 👇

Tip: Most founders forward this newsletter to their HR manager.


In a nutshell, what you can learn from this?

  • How to start hiring: Write a candidate profile for internal usage. Then, write a job description for external use;

  • How to find candidates (inbound): Invest in employer branding, get press coverage, and advertise on job boards;

  • How to find candidates (outbound): Work with a recruiter only when you want to grow fast or need specific profiles. Let them work close with a team leader to find the right candidates;

  • How to interview people at scale: Delegate to a team leader so teams can grow on their own. They are the best to discover a cultural fit. Support them with training in interview techniques to avoid bad hires. And, ask the five questions from this newsletter.


Interviewing the co-founder & CEO of Harmoney (left)

With your burning questions on hiring, I visited ten founders of Europe’s fastest-growing startups like Speakap, Nodalview and FleetMaster.

I figured out their worst hiring mistakes, so you don’t have to make them. That’s why I split this newsletter into three parts:

  • Part 1: Where To Find More Candidates 👀 (this post)

  • Part 2: How To Interview Your Candidates In 4 Rounds 👂 (read it here)

  • Part 3: How To Onboard and Offboard Employees 👋 (read it here)

In ten minutes, you can compare your recruitment process with ten other startups.

Part 1: Where To Find More Candidates 👀

Did you know that the ideal time between receiving a candidate application and sending them a contract proposal is three weeks?

And that the best candidates go through four different interview rounds?

Most startups took three weeks to plan these four interview rounds:

  1. Round 1: Exploratory Interview

  2. Round 2: Culture Interview

  3. Round 3: Skills Interview

  4. Round 4: CEO Interview

But, we will explore that in the second part of this newsletter. Let’s start with how they found their candidates.

“Recruitment begins with identifying the need for an extra pair of hands. Someone to help your company grow. Then, you briefly describe a candidate profile for the role that you’re looking to hire.”

— Thomas Van Maele (Co-founder & CEO at Harmoney)

Depending on the growth phase of your startup, the person who creates a candidate profile varies:

  • In an early-stage startup (<25 people): the founder or management team will be in charge.

  • In a bigger startup (>25 people): the team lead and HR manager will do so.

“After we set up a candidate profile, we write a compelling job description to spread the message that we’re looking to hire a specific role.”

— Jeremy Bonnevalle (Co-founder at Fourcast)

Most interviewed founders structure their job descriptions like this:

  • Company mission, 

  • The role you are looking to hire,

  • What the candidate will be doing,

  • Why others choose to work at your company,

  • What the requirements are of the candidate,

  • What you offer the candidate.

I recommend reading one of these job descriptions to compare how others wrote it: Yesplan, Nodalview, and FleetMaster.

Once it’s clear what the person should be capable of doing, it’s time to start searching for candidates. Let’s bring in that talent!

One of your fellow readers sent me the following question:

Where do I find the right candidates, and which platforms do I use?”

(Want to have an impact on my next newsletters? Send me your challenges, and I will go on the road to interview European founders in my network.)

In the interviews, I discovered two main strategies to find the right candidates:

  1. Strategy 1: Inbound (Passive inflow)

  2. Strategy 2: Outbound (Proactive outreach)

Let’s take a look at these two strategies.

Strategy 1: Inbound (Passive inflow)

The first strategy gets you a passive inflow of candidates with two methods:

  1. Press coverage,

  2. advertise in job boards.

“More than 50% of the potential candidates come to us via inbound! But, I wish we had focused more on building employer branding from the beginning. It’s the best investment you can make to generate a passive inflow of candidates. If there’s one thing I want to share with fellow startups, it’s that you should over-invest in employer branding.”

— Thomas Lepelaars (Founder & CEO at Nodalview)

A great way to reach more job seekers with employer branding is press coverage.

How you get covered in the press is explained in this slide deck: the PR secrets of Tesla, Uber, Facebook, Salesforce,...

You can also read this short version: How do I get featured in Techcrunch?

“A part of the solution is employer branding indeed. Because as a startup, you need to communicate a lot to job seekers to attract a lot of candidates. The reason that some startups attract more candidates than others is that they are great at PR.”

— Pierre-Olivier Danhaive (Founder & CEO at Verbolia)

Besides press coverage, you can reach more job seekers by advertising your vacancies on job boards such as LinkedIn.

Job boards help you reach different talent pools like broad profiles, specific profiles and interns.

Broad profiles like sales, marketing and customer-facing candidates swim in big talent pools such as:

Specific profiles, like engineering or data scientists, swim in smaller talent pools like:

Interns are more relevant when the job criteria aren’t high. They are eager to learn and might result in a great hire at an affordable cost

“It’s often easier to hire an intern or a fresh graduate and let them grow in your company than hiring a front end engineer with two years of experience. But be careful, investing time in training interns doesn’t always pay off.”

— Olivier Delangre (Founder & CEO at Amoobi)

Reach a talent pool of potential interns with job boards like:

Once you get an inflow of candidates, don’t lose them by tracking their progress the wrong way. You have plenty of software tools to support you.

However, most startups don’t use expensive tools in the early days of their company.

Here are some great applicant tracking templates from free tools they use: Notion, Trello or Airtable.

Only when the interviewed startups grew to 10-20 employees, they used paid tools to track the progress and resumes of candidates.

The most common paid tools were Recruitee, SmartRecruiters or Greenhouse.

Strategy 2: Outbound (Proactive outreach)

A question I received about reaching out to candidates:

Should I search for candidates myself, or do I use a professional recruiter to do it for me?”

Here are two answers straight from the interviews:

We could have grown faster if we had worked with a recruiter from the beginning. So we could keep on hiring even when we didn’t need a specific profile yet. So far, we have always hired when we felt it was necessary. For example, we sold our product until we couldn’t handle it anymore. Then, we found someone to do it for us... The classic chicken and egg story. But, sometimes, you get into trouble because of that. If I were to do it again, I would recruit more proactive from the beginning.”

Jeremy Bonnevalle (Co-founder at Fourcast) 

So Jeremy advises you to work with a recruiter when you want to grow fast. But there’s another situation when recruiters can help you:

“When you’re recruiting for a technical profile, the challenge is much bigger since most of them are not looking for a new job. That’s the moment when a good recruiter can help you. But it's hard to find a good one. That’s why we work with universities to find technical profiles.”

— Olivier Delangre (Founder & CEO at Amoobi)

Olivier’s experience shows us that recruiters can also help you when you need specific profiles.

When you’re doing the recruitment yourself, most founders agreed that the best person for this is a team or department leader.

For example, sales leaders will reach out to sales candidates, marketing leaders reach out to marketing candidates, etc.

You still need to support them with the right training in interview techniques to avoid bad hires, of course.

Delegating the recruitment to a team leader impacts your company’s growth because:

  1. Your teams can grow on their own (with quarterly targets),

  2. You lower the time investment of the founders or HR manager in reaching out to people,

  3. You avoid the cost of needing to work with a recruiter.

Working with recruiters can save you a lot of time and headaches. But they can be expensive, and you still need to invest time in them.

Read the answer to the question below to see what I mean:

How can a recruiter, who's not a domain expert (in sales, marketing,..), find and hire the best candidate to do that? It puzzles me how recruiters try to get this done.”

When you’re using a recruiter to reach out to people, they should work very close with the person who created the candidate profile.

But, what do you look for in a good recruiter?

Hiring a recruiter is the same process as every other role you hire. Create a candidate profile and set expectations on their goals.

Part of the recruiter’s job is to help you create a list of potential candidates and set up the first conversation.

In most cases, the first conversation is a phone call of 30 minutes - not a video call to avoid bias. The goal of this first call is to ask the potential candidate a few questions:

  • Why us and why you?

  • What gives you energy and drains energy during the day?

  • What are you most proud of?

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?

  • What are your salary expectations?

Asking these questions filters the candidates with the right motivation to work at your company.

In most cases, an employee holds the first conversation. Not a recruiter. Because you want to discover if the candidate matches the culture of your company and team.

“In the past, I was letting other people do the first interview round, and I was only seeing candidates at the end for the first time. I was wrong. Back then, we were very small, so we had to hire the right person immediately. Their impact on the company is much higher than the stage where we are now.”

— Olivier Delangre (Founder & CEO at Amoobi)

So to detect a cultural fit, you can do the first interview round with the founder, or at least with someone from your company.

“If there’s no cultural fit, it ruins everyone else in the team because it’s a small structure.”

— Pierre-Olivier Danhaive (Founder & CEO at Verbolia)

The key take-away? Search candidates in the right talent pools, use a recruiter when you need specific people and want to grow fast, and delegate interviews to your department leader to scale your recruitment process.

The next newsletter post dives deeper into how other startups structure their interview rounds and which questions they ask.

  • Part 1: Where To Find More Candidates 👀 (this post)

  • Part 2: How To Interview Your Candidates In 4 Rounds 👂 (read it here)

  • Part 3: How To Onboard and Offboard Employees 👋 (read it here)

Subscribe below to make sure that you receive future newsletters as one of the first. 🙌


Thank you. To all of you.

I want to genuinely say thank you. To all of you. For tuning in, reading the newsletter and sharing your questions. 

Above all, this newsletter would not have been possible without the generosity of the experts. They all shared their time, stories, and insights with me simply because I asked.

A very special thank you to Pierre-Olivier Danhaive (Founder & CEO at Verbolia), Jeremy Bonnevalle (Founder & CEO at Fourcast), Olivier Delangre (Founder & CEO at Amoobi), Thomas Lepelaars (Founder & CEO at Nodalview), Annelies Den Boer (COO at Speakap), Frederik De Witte (Founder at FleetMaster), Wouter Vermeylen (Founder & CEO at Yesplan), Thomas Van Maele (Co-founder at Harmoney), and of course Stefaan Arryn for guiding me in the hiring landscape (VP People at Silverfin).

Credits to Raf Weverbergh for creating the slide deck on how to get press coverage. He’s a genius in PR who helped many startups get coverage in international blogs.

And, a big thank you to Monica, PJ, Jesse, Ilse, Jaan and Matthias for reviewing early drafts of this post.