Before Sourcing Sprints, I spent 7 years in early-stage VC. Over and over, hiring was the biggest blocker for our founders. They received terrible inbound applications. They struggled with recruiting agencies. They felt stuck making critical hires.
This is understandable. Early-stage hiring is tough because you’re a small, unknown startup, yet you need to be hiring the best – future team members will judge whether they want to work with you based on who you’ve already hired.
It’s also tough because you want to hire startup-y generalists who are excited about your mission, yet the majority of the candidates have worked at larger companies, and are either too specialized or not ready for the fast pace of a small team.
How then do you find your first few hires? As detailed recently in this great post on b2b hiring, the first place to look is friends, former colleagues, and referrals. While you’ll sometimes get lucky, more often than not, none of these channels bring in the quantity or quality of talent you’re looking for.
Job ads don't work because nobody knows about you and the vast majority of candidates are passive. They aren’t applying for jobs because they’re busy with other things.
The solution is to focus on cold outbound. You need to find qualified people (usually on LinkedIn) and reach out to them, pitching them on your mission + vision.
This process works great, and with enough outreach, you’ll reliably find someone you’re super excited about. The catch is that setting up enough conversations takes a TON of work. On average, maybe 6% - 8% of qualified candidates are open to new roles so to speak with 15 - 25 relevant people (a good benchmark), you’ll need to source and reach out to 250 - 500 people, meaning 750 - 1500 personalized emails.
Sourcing these people can take anywhere between 150 - 300 hours. This is time founders don’t have, so they need to get leverage and find a way to shortcut this process. How?
The first option is to hire an hourly sourcer while you handle outreach and screening. This approach is low cost but high time investment because you’ll need to spend time training someone on what you’re looking for. Candidate quality is often poor, but if you’re bootstrapped it’s an option worth considering.
Look on upwork or ask founder friends who they’ve worked with in the past. Expect spend anywhere between $10-$20 / hr for decent overseas sourcers or $40-$80+ / hr here in the US.
Of course, another option is to hire us to run a 4-8 week “sourcing sprint” for you. We’re experts at unearthing top candidates, and are 100% transparent so you’ll get access to every candidate we consider.
Because early hires want to hear directly from founders, we send all outreach from your own email (we don’t speak with candidates), but focus on the top of funnel, enabling you to have 15 - 20 calls with great people you wouldn’t otherwise have met.
Although most of our clients are early-stage startups (usually based in the USA and hiring in the USA) we have an amazing team of offshore sourcers, so we’re a fraction of the cost of a recruiting agency. We have a low, fixed fee and it all comes with a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee.
This project-based approach is best for pre-seed or seed-stage startups that hire in bursts (typically after raising a funding round) and don’t yet need to think about hiring 24/7. We sometimes work with Series A startups but typically on specialized or hard-to-fill roles.
If you have many open roles and are ramping up hiring, it may make more sense to hire your own internal recruiter.
Many recruiting agencies offer a service called “embedded” recruiting where they’ll staff a recruiter with you (typically for 60 - 90 days at a time but sometimes longer). Costs vary depending on the seniority of the person you need, but are often $8k - $12k / month. Although more expensive, this option is more flexible than hiring someone full-time and will give you the ability to work on many roles at once.
Many agencies do this, but some who focus on it in the US include Bali Staffing and Secure Vision, or in Europe there’s Talentful and Matchr. At this stage (often series B, C, D, or later), you typically have someone on your team focusing on recruiting full-time, but use agencies to ramp up or down recruiting capacity as your needs dictate.
Most recruiting agencies reach out to candidates on your behalf, presenting you with a shortlist of top hires. You pay a “success fee” only if you hire someone they introduce (typically 15% - 30% of a candidate's first-year salary). This model makes it feel like low-risk, but it’s fundamentally misaligned with the needs of early-stage founders:
First is because there’s significant adverse selection – the best candidates often ignore recruiters because they’ve been burned in the past. No one is better enabled to pitch your vision than you as the founder.
Second is because the fee structure incentivizes agencies to introduce higher priced candidates (the bigger the salary the bigger their fee).
Third is because as a founder, you want to learn how to repeatably hire, not just fill one open role. Agencies prevent you from truly learning by screening candidates for you, sending you a small number of leads, and not being transparent about how they’re sourced. As you grow, you’ll need to set up an outbound recruiting process internally so it pays to learn how to do this early on (or find the right partners who can help you do so).
As an early-stage founder, the hiring playbook is straightforward – start with friends, ex-colleagues, and referrals, but recognize that cold outbound will soon be the backbone of your recruiting strategy. Because this is a funnel-driven grind, you need to get leverage by either hiring an hourly sourcer, running a sourcing sprint with us, or hiring an embedded recruiter.
If you're really strapped for cash, you can still decide to DIY. In that case, I wrote a guide that outlines some tools and tips you’ll need. Also, feel free to book a call below and I’d be happy to help you strategize whether or not you decide to work with us.
Good luck and happy hiring!