Adventures in Hiring for a Startup

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent time trying to fill various positions at StyleFeeder. This process has been fairly interesting, so I thought that it would be helpful to others if I wrote about it. First of all, hiring in Boston in 2006 is (a) harder than it was in boomtime in 1999 and (b) easier than it was in 2002, for various reasons. For reference, in 1999, I had to actually change my cell phone number because I was getting around 30 calls per day from recruiters (yes, really). By 2002, I was receiving perhaps one call per month. In 1999, it was normal for candidates to receive 3 offers from various companies. They had choice, they had leverage to negotiate, they could take their time and think the offers over. Contrasted with 2002… well, nobody who had a job was looking for a new one.

One thing that I will hypothesize is that a lot of people who took refuge in large companies during the nuclear winter economy of 2001-2002 may possibly still be stuck in those giants. Some of this may have to do with age. If you graduated from college in 1995 at the age of 22, that means that you’re 33 now. At 33, the chances that you have a spouse, mortgage and kids is a lot higher and that in turn may steer a person away from working at a startup (perceived as “unstable”). Another possible explanation is that the people who you want working in startups in Boston are already doing just that. There are so many startups in Boston these days – it’s really great to see that the energy level has picked up in this regard. VC money is flowing again, companies are hiring, real estate is easy to find and there is no shortage of ideas.

Oh, and Google is in town. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to be as big of a drain on the talent pool as I had originally feared. I’m not sure why that is the case. I thought they were going to suck in pretty much anybody worth hiring.

Anyway, the first position that I was hiring for was a freelance designer. I’d tapped pretty much every designer that I knew personally and none of them were going to work out. So I needed to place an ad. But where? I knew that a posting on Monster.com was going to yield a lot of low-quality applications. Boston.com? But who reads the job postings there?

In the end, I decided to try AuthenticJobs.com (specifically for a certain breed of Web designer) and 37signals’ job board. At the time, AuthenticJobs.com cost $99 and 37signals cost $250. Within hours of posting, I had received materials from a few designers that really stood out from the crowd. In terms of overal numbers, here’s the breakdown:

Design Job
Source Cost Applicants Cost / Applicant
Authentic Jobs $100 32 $3.13
37signals $250 25 $10

By this measure, AuthenticJobs was cheaper and more effective. Judging applicant quality is a hard task, but I would say that the quality of applicants coming from AuthenticJobs was higher than 37signals.

The next position that I posted was for a BizDev/Marketing Executive. This time, I posted on CraigsList, LinkedIn and, once again, 37signals. At the time, CraigsList was free, so that was an easy choice. LinkedIn cost me $95, but I assumed that it was going to be a decent social networking for tech-savvy marketing people and would therefore pay for itself. My logic in selecting 37signals as a posting spot for the marketing job was this: if any marketing people are monitoring 37signals, then they clearly must “get it” and would be, in a way, self qualifying. The breakdown:

Marketing/BizDev Executive
Source Cost Applicants Cost / Applicant
CraigsList $0 3 $0
37signals $300 0 -
LinkedIn $95 11 $8.64

Notice this time that 37signals had raised their price to $300 (it was $250 when I posted the designer job). The quality of the CraigsList respondees was actually pretty decent. I’m not sure what it is about CraigsList, but there’s a certain vibe there that attracts well-educated folks. LinkedIn candidates were also quite good.

The third position that I’m hiring for is a Senior Developer. For this job, I used CraigsList (it was free at the time, but the price has since jumped to $25), LinkedIn (for $95) and 37signals (for $300). For reasons that I cannot fully explain, we have not received a single applicant so far. Partially, I blame the fact that I didn’t change one of the “intelligent defaults” on 37signals’ job posting form, so my developer job has been stuck in the “design” category. They have conveniently ignored my two email requests asking for them to categorize the job into the right place. 37signals seems to have a completely sub-par customer service operation. A $300 job posting should come with some customer support or at least the ability to edit your job after you have posted it.

Based on my experience in spending $850 on 37signals jobs, I definitely won’t be advertising there again. LinkedIn and CraigsList both provide a much nicer overall experience at cheaper rates. AuthenticJobs has recently raised their price to $300, which is a little steep. I guess they’re thinking that they’re providing as good a service as 37signals and that they can get away with it. Perhaps.

Does anybody recommend other ways to find high-quality applicants? I’m eager to hear about your experiences.

Here are the spots that I’m currently looking to fill:

Senior Developer

Marketing / Business Development Executive

If you know anybody who might be interested, please point them to the job postings. Thanks!

10 thoughts on “Adventures in Hiring for a Startup

  1. I believe the method you used to find good talent was well thought out and clearly effective. I happen to be one of those freelance developers that responded to your post and found you via 37signals. In addition to freelance development, however, I also have a few products that are sold business to consumer and have experienced the trials of finding good developers, consultants, etc. as well.

    With that in mind, although the option to use 37ignals and authenticjobs are more expensive I believe the talent you will find there is worth the cost. (This coming from someone who is not necessarily a fan of 37signals). The truth is, those individuals that find you via 37signals or authenticjobs likely “get it” and are probably on the cutting-edge in regards to their prospective skill sets.

    As a start-up or small company it is imperative to find good, ideally, exceptional talent. In a game where “Surviving is Succeeding,” it is necessary to seek out this talent because the reality is such talent is hard to find. So when you do find someone, the return on your initial investment is exponential. Therefore, considering the audience of 37signals and authentic jobs…I believe it is worth paying extra for the caliber of resumes.

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  3. Hello Mr. Jacob:

    Would you like to try out your Biz Dev job on ExecuNet?
    Typically it’s $199, but I will give it to you as a courtesy – maybe we can help.
    Check out our website and give me a call. Thanks!

    Regards,
    Meaghan Joynt
    Account Executive
    800-637-3126 ext. 136

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  6. So, YOU’RE whirlycott, huh? I found this page while serching for Uber and figured I should stop by and thank you for helping Bart fix Uber’s servers last year. So thanks.

  7. I find it amusing there are no business dev or marketing people who viewed 37Signals and thus, “get it”, largely because it’s on par with my experience (of them not getting it).

    Anyway, you could also try the jobs board at australian in front – though I guess it depends how wide a net you want to cast. For within the US I think your approach was dead on target.

    I’m glad Mr Moll is doing a jobs board now.

  8. Hello Mr. Jacob;

    I think that if you were to contact an executive recruiter the first thing they might want you to do is to complete a very detailed but concise recruiting specification. One page in length should be sufficient. Next, they might want to know what schools you would find particularly appealing in terms of the type of education the candidate may have received. Depending on the years of experience and the compensation requirements of your firm, you might find that posting to the career services of the universities (usually at no cost) will produce the desired candidates with the only costs, your time to create the recruiting specifications and posting them to the career site.

    Regards —

    Tom Dimmick
    DK Search, Inc.
    570-696-5630

  9. You may want to try out freshwebjobs.com, especially for design & development jobs. It’s a very young job board ( about 45 days old) and
    it is targeting only web professionals, focusing on new trends and web standards “lovers” :)

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