Top tips for startup HR from SoundCloud’s Caoimhe Keogan

It'd take a lot to leave a job at Google to work for a much smaller-scale internet company, but SoundCloud's new HR expert Caoimhe Keogan has no regrets about her decision. She was drawn away from the hammocks, scooters and free meals to join the music platform as the VP People.

Now, she's taking the skills she learnt at Google and using them to spearhead recruitment, talent management training, development and coaching at SoundCloud. We caught up with her to find out what her top tips for startup HR are – and yes, a trip to the Bürgeramt with your non-German employees is one of them...


Startups = High growth. Get a robust process to deal with a rapidly expanding workforce

width="180"We make about ten new hires per month, which means the onboarding process is extremely important. You have to have a well-planned procedure to get people involved and contributing to the company as quickly as possible. In startups you don't have the luxury of six-week training programmes – new staff members have to be contributing to their teams within their first or second week.

We say the onboarding process begins before new staff members even have their first day in the office. So beforehand, they get to meet their teams, they get to meet their managers – so they get to know SoundCloud, its people and culture before they even start. Then in the first few days, they get really integrated into the company through the onboarding process. They get an overview of the general strategy, values and team leaders when they begin and then stick with their teams.

In the startup hiring war, you need top talent to attract top talent

The best way to attract top talent is by having a great work environment and staff: Great people want to work with other great people. Your staff should be the selling point for your company.

Take the fear out of the Bürgeramt – Make the relocation process as easy as ABC

A significant percentage of our workforce has relocated to Berlin to work for us. I’m a personal example of this. But at SoundCloud, we try and take all the fear out of relocating, we've hired a relocation specialist and an onboarding specialist to help the moving process and give international staff all the practical support they need to live in Berlin. We even take them to the Bürgeramt and organise temporary accommodation. Plus, we all know how hard it is to rent a flat in Berlin, so we offer bilingual support in negotiating leases and finding apartments.

Keep the leaders visible

We value an open and transparent business, so we have meetings where the founders themselves are very visible – people feel like the can ask them questions, whatever they want to know. We try to have these discussions regularly.


Do as the SoundCloud founders do and "Live on the internet"

We've got about 30 different nationalities at SoundCloud, the majority is definitely international and not German. But I think that's really great, a lot of people who work in the tech sector are used to a very international environment. As the founders Alex and Eric say, they don’t live in any particular country, they live on the internet. I think a lot of people in the tech scene feel that way.

That being said, with such an international workforce you do have to work harder at explaining cultural nuances and make sure that everyone knows to be respectful of any differences when you take them through the onboarding process.

Hire for team fit, not skills

First and foremost, you should hire for a cultural fit in the workforce – the technical skills come in second. If you have a scenario where someone is struggling to make the transition into a company, work hard at making it easier – talent is scarce. We search all over the globe for remarkable people

A strong purpose + creative work environment = happy staff

The sole purpose of my team  is to find remarkable people and keep them growing and productive. We do this by giving people a purpose and making sure they are clear on what their role is and what they're expected to do. We just give people the tools and freedom to do their jobs. What draws people to internet startups is the fact that they can make a real impact and take on a lot of responsibility there.

Also, creating a great physical environment where people can best work creatively is important. This isn't necessarily at a desk. So we have spaces where people can move and work in different environments at SoundCloud.


Don't do a Yahoo and ban working from home

We believe in flexible working – we don’t have a strong opinion on where people work, it is all about getting the work done. So wherever people best do this is fine. It really depends on the individual personality – but people are generally social animals, we do like having a space where people come together in the office. If people need to do intense or detailed work, sometimes it's easier to do that alone outside the office.

I think you can maintain this flexibility even if you grow a lot. Coming from Google, I still felt a strong sense of flexibility there on where we get our work done, it still had a startup feel despite having something like 30,000 employees. You have to operate on the basis that people are inherently good and you can trust them to get on with the work you need them to do.

Image credit: Flickr users gareth1953

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