There’s no doubt that a big part of a startup’s success comes down to the people – but how can you build a top-notch team with limited resources? What kind of hiring strategies can early-stage startups employ?
Founded in 2003, London-based social games company King – formerly known as King.com – has grown into a 550-person team and claims 100 million daily active users across its games, which includes the popular Candy Crush Saga. After bringing on financial expert Hope Cochran as new CFO, King is now tipped for an IPO in the US.
We talk to Kingsley Macey, King’s VP of HR, who offers insight on how to spot the best talent and why it’s important “not to get too fat”…
1) Think about future growth and work backwards
While it may be hard for many young startups to imagine what the company will look like in a year or what it would be doing if it were worth a couple million dollars, Macey said that it’s crucial to “overstretch the thought processes” around growth potential.
Especially for high-growth businesses: “Think about what your organisation would need if it were X millions dollars or three times its size – then work back from the long-term direction.”
2) Don’t compromise
“Don’t compromise on quality ever. It’s not worth it – you’ll always regret it at some point. Hold out until you really feel that you’ve got the right person who has the technical and cultural fit,” Macey emphasised. “Your employees are your most important asset.”
3) Cultural fit is key
At King, potential candidates typically meet about five people from the company to test cultural fit before a final decision is made. “You can hire technical experts but if the cultural fit isn’t right, they’ll stand out a mile and it will cause an infection if you don’t address it,” he said.
4) Make sure there is a genuine connection
During the interview, Macey said that it’s not only what candidates are saying to respond to questions that matters, but how they are saying it. In other words, their behaviours.
“It’s important for candidates to demonstrate their competence in an area but there also needs to be a real personal connection with who we hire,” he explained. “Some people can say the right things, but in person they may not be espousing that or they might not really connect with us at all.”
5) Be involved in the hiring process
For early-stage founders, Macey recommends being actively involved in the hiring process and continuing to be aware of all final hires as you scale: “As you experience more growth, always remain very close to the offers and candidates.”
Despite the company’s size, King’s CEO and COO still see every resume and approve every single offer that gets processed. “In order to do that, we have an automated system that allows us to scale that efficiently and allow us to keep close on the quality of our hires,” he said.
6) Hire great leaders from the beginning
“It can be hard to find high-calibre industry experts who are prepared to join you and take the risk during the formative years – when they’ll need to be hands-on and more strategic but you will ultimately need those types of candidates,” he said.
Though you won’t be able to build your whole organisation with these types of people, Mace advised that you should identify key roles needed for the startup to grow and “potentially overhire” in these areas.
7) Offer more responsibility
“Don’t micromanage. Keep an eye on the quality of work but give employees the autonomy and responsibility to take charge,” Macey said. “The type of people that you really want to hire in your business will thrive on the responsibility and the challenges. They’ll want to be able to demonstrate that – certainly the highfliers do.”
8) “Don’t get too fat”
“Be careful that you don’t get too fat in some areas. What might sometimes happen – it hasn’t happened with us because we’re really careful with it – is that you just keep adding bodies,” he explained. “Look at how the organisation can be structured more efficiently.”
The consequences of getting too fat? You’ll probably have to make difficult cuts to your team. “Stay lean but don’t make the organisation creak, which can make employees overstressed.”
9) Use a probation period to manage quality
“Our probation process is a high-level support that we have to manage quality. There is retrospective every month during their probation period to talk about what has been done well, what could be done differently and to help set goals for the next month,” he said. “It really helps to add encouragement and make employees as high-performing as quickly as possible.”
Also: “Don’t avoid the difficult decisions, if something isn’t really working during probation make the decision.”
10) Provide adequate resources
Though it seems obvious, many young startups may be tempted to skimp out on resources due to tight budgets – don’t. “Give people all the resources and tools they need to do a great job,” he said.