As an early-stage startup, the hardest part of recruiting is finding the right talent and getting them to engage and eventually interview. This is where you’ll spend most of your time.

The top of the funnel is arguably the most important part of startup hiring, but it can be low ROI if you spend time & energy on the wrong things. Unfortunately, this is probably the part of the funnel that you have the least experience with (e.g. compared to interviewing), and approaches that work for large companies don’t tend to work for small startups.

To help, we’ve outlined specific strategies to find and engage with talent at the top of the funnel. Click into each guide for step-by-step instructions and example templates:

2a. Sourcing 1st-degree connections

Sourcing and recruiting from your network is going to be the highest-ROI way to hire your early team, especially engineers. Every co-founder should be spending time on this regardless of their role.

2b. Referrals

Hiring is a team sport. If you’ve hired a few founding team members, leveraging their referrals can be a great way to expand your company’s network. You can also get referrals from friends, VCs, and advisors. The key is to put good processes in place to make it as easy (and low-pressure) as possible.

2c. Sourcing 2nd-degree connections

Usually, sourcing out of network talent is low ROI, but there is one technique that works well, which we call the “connector node”. Essentially, we’ll turn 2nd-degree connections into 1st-degree connections leveraging the concept of “social proof”. It’s also pretty scalable.

2d. Hiring marketplaces (e.g.,Triplebyte)

Hiring marketplaces like Triplebyte can be a good source of high-quality candidates. Especially, if you have the budget. The key is to focus on what makes your opportunity unique and do great qualification early on to filter out candidates that never would have joined your startup in the first place.

2e. Agencies

Recruiting agencies are mixed ROI as a small startup. Agencies cost a lot (~20-30% of first-year salary), incentives can be misaligned, and the quality varies dramatically. Agencies can work if you’re hiring for a niche role where you have less experience & no network. Overall, leverage agencies sparingly, and when you do, make sure they reference well.

2f. Other sources of candidates

Unfortunately, most other strategies (inbound, campus, meetups) that work for larger companies are going to be lower-ROI. You should spend your time on higher-ROI strategies, especially your network, except in rare cases.

2g. Gem’s founding team and where we found them

Read the story behind Gem's founding team and where we found each founding team member.

Next Steps

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<aside> ➡️ Next Up → 2a. Sourcing 1st-degree connections here → Skip ahead to the initial sell conversation here → Skip ahead to nurturing passive talent here


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