Ryan O'Donnell By Ryan O'Donnell • November 18, 2015

"Building Your Founding Team:" The Recruiter's Hat Part One

**This is a part of "The Five Part Guide to Start-Up Hiring by the CEO of the "Uber of Recruiting." Check out the introduction here.

Part One: "Building Your Founding Team"

Contrary to popular belief, the visionary founder who single-handedly wills a unicorn into existence isn't real. You need a great founding team to bring your idea to life. Building a team of passionate people should be one of your top priorities as a start-up CEO.

To help you build your founding team, I've explained in detail how we have done it at EmployUs. I hope this guide will shed light on the recruiting process to help other entrepreneurs build their teams. If you get the right people in the right seats early, you set yourself up for hiring success.

Finding Your Co-Founder:

Why: When you want to build a platform to connect employers and job seekers through trusted referrals, the combination of a tech entrepreneur and recruiting industry titan is a dynamic duo. Before anything could begin, two entrepreneurs had to meet to make EmployUs a reality.

The Perfect Fit: I'm frequently asked how a 22 year old serial entrepreneur teamed up with a recruiting industry titan. My cofounder, Jeff Stocks, made a name for himself by spending 35 years as a CEO of one of Manpower’s largest recruiting and staffing operations in the world. We were introduced while I was a student at NC State University's Poole College of Management. We instantly hit it off and started putting the pieces together for what would become EmployUs. We worked together for about six-months to make sure the chemistry was right, then made it official incorporating the company in late 2014.

Recruiting Tip #1: There are many ways to find your co-founder(s). At my first start-up, we were all undergrads at NC State. I’ve seen early investors join start-ups as co-founders, former co-workers team up, or founders connecting on sites like FounderDating.com. No matter how you find each other, it’s really important to spend a lot of time together making sure you enjoy working together and want to experience the rollercoaster ride of a start-up.

Who Should We Hire First?

Your first hires are betting their careers and livelihoods on you and your start-up.  So they are taking on as much risk as your investors, if not more. Always remember that and let them do their due diligence on you and your start-up. At the earliest of stages, we knew we needed start-up veterans, generalists, and people who wanted to fix how employers and job seekers connect.

"Your first hires are betting their careers and livelihoods on you and your start-up. "

We graduated from the Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program and picked up an NC IDEA Grant before securing our seed round. With our initial financing in place, it was time to start building the rest of our team.

Hire #1: Catrina Vienrich

Why: If you’re a start-up founder that cannot hire, you may have a really expensive hobby instead of a business. We needed to increase our capacity to achieve our mission and with ~20 customers on an MVP, it was time to bring in our first hire. Major accounts were closing and it was time to bring in someone with experience in sales and marketing to take us to a whole new level.

The Perfect Fit: I asked Lewis Sheats (Aka: The Best Professor at NC State) one question, "Who is the best sales and marketing person you know for an early-stage start-up?” Later that week, Sheats connected me with Catrina and we agreed to meet at the Demo Day for the Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program. Luckily, two investors sat next to her and when she asked what brought them there, they said they came just to see my pitch. That might have helped because after spending a few weeks getting to know Jeff, myself and our vision for the company, Catrina joined our team as VP of Sales and Marketing. (Side note: Never got those investors, but Catrina was the biggest win for us at Demo Day.)

Recruiting Lesson #2: In the early days, you are your culture. The company is an extension of you, for better and worse. We passed on several good candidates because we didn't believe they would be a good fit for our culture. Figure out what matters to you first, then intentionally pursue people who fit your culture. Jeff and I believe in just getting it done. If we don’t know something, we learn. If something breaks, we fix it. If we can help, we do. Your first few hires are essentially co-founders; Jeff and I wanted someone as adaptive as us, quick to learn, and willing to venture out into the unknown.

Hire #2: Mark Riedeman

Why: After three-months in private beta and nearly 1 in 6 job seekers getting hired on our app we needed to build out a full product and get ready to scale up our platform. It was time to bring in the technical depth we needed by hiring an experienced, early-stage technology leader.

The Perfect Fit: At TechBreakfast (a local meetup), I saw Mark Riedeman demo the software he spent building by himself while on a year long sabbatical. Before that, he spent over 20 years building engineering teams at 6Fusion, iContact (Acquired by Vocus for $170M), and ChannelAdvisor (IPO). Mark saw me pitch EmployUs at TechBreakfast a few months later so by the next meet-up when I asked the crowd for help finding the perfect CTO, a message from Mark was waiting for me on LinkedIn. The rest, as they say, is history. Mark joined the team and starting building as CTO.

Recruiting Lesson #3: Recruiting is about persistence. Get out there and pound the pavement. Make the calls. Go to the events. Ask around. Don't look for name brands, titles, or the perfect resume. When you meet someone who might be a good fit, move quickly. The faster you can get to a quick no or outline next steps, the better (Something personally I need to improve on). Their time is valuable, as is yours. Be clear about your intentions, be brutally honest, and share your vision for the future.

The Founding Team Scales Your Start-Up

EmployUs is planning on doubling by the end of this year, and our first employees are helping recruit the next. If you want an awesome visual of this, check out the Ted Talk called “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers. Literally, the first person doesn’t build the movement, the second person is the most important. For proof, let’s examine our third hire.

Hire #3: Jon Yildiz

Why: With our product soon to be released, we knew we needed a dedicated data-obsessed B2C marketer who wanted to scale up our marketplace to connect employers and job seekers through trusted referrals.

The Perfect Fit: A local career coach, John O’Connor, introduced a person to Catrina at a local meet-up who was new in town. After building 20+ profitable e-commerce businesses, an engineer turned marketer, Jon Yildiz, set his sights on joining a business that improved the quality of people’s lives. A jack-of-all-trades B2C marketer, growth hacker, designer, and coder, was attracted by our culture and commitment to help people work where they belong, Jon joined our team and hit the ground running as our Director of Growth.

Recruiting Lesson #4: Your early employees are your best recruiters. Once you have your first key hires in place, together, you can attract, recruit, and retain a world class team. You cannot compromise on your recruiting, building your culture, or empowering your employees. As the CEO and founder, your job is to hire great people who eventually will also hire other great people. Empower your teammates to actively get to know other people who might belong at your start-up.

Up Next: 5 Things You Need To Do Before You Start Recruiting

*Disclaimer: I'm not perfect and neither is this guide, so if you're an entrepreneur, recruiter, or start-up employee interested sharing your perspective, comment or message me so we can best guide possible.

About the Author:

Ryan O'Donnell is the CEO & Co-Founder of EmployUs, a free mobile hiring app connecting employers and job seekers through trusted referrals. Called the “Uber of Recruiting,” EmployUs helps employers hire more referrals by rewarding users for the network they've built. Interested in our free mobile hiring app to hire more referrals, sign-up to learn more here.