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

In-network hires are great because it’s easier to get signal on whether they’re a good fit (either you’ve worked with them or can back-channel easily). More importantly, people from your network are going to be more likely to make a leap and join you. Joining an early-stage startup is super risky and a huge commitment on their part. With personal connections, you’ll have insight into what would motivate them to join, and can lean on your network to help them decide.

If you or your co-founder or your team are uneasy with reaching out to your network about working at your startup, I urge you to get comfortable with it. If you don’t put yourself out there and engage with talent, you won’t hire a team and your startup will fail. It’s as simple as that.

Tooling stack

Before diving in, you may want to spend 15 minutes getting set up on a few tools. Of course, we recommend giving Gem a spin. It’s free for 2 years if you apply to our free for startups program.

LinkedIn (Basic or Recruiter Lite) + Gem will cover all of the bases between candidate search, candidate work history, email finder, outreach, and CRM. But you can also piece together your own custom stack if you want to, e.g. LinkedIn + ContactOut + Spreadsheet + MixMax. An ATS is probably optional at this stage.

Startup Tooling Stack

Build your list

Start by building your short-list of ~10-25 people and then cast a wider net. At Gem, we call these our “L1 connections” and “L2 connections”:

Carve out a few hours to go through your Facebook and LinkedIn connections to build your list of L1 connections. There’s a good chance this will turn up a good number of L2 connections as well. If you’re using Gem, you can create projects for “L1 connections” and “L2 connections”, and download our Chrome Extension to seamlessly import each person from LinkedIn with one click.

If you haven’t done a great job maintaining Facebook or LinkedIn connections, run a search on LinkedIn to find people you know that you haven’t connected with yet. Try running a search for your school and then each company you’ve worked for (don’t forget your internships!).

Reach out

Your primary goal when reaching out is to get to an initial conversation, whether that’s call, Zoom catch-up, coffee, lunch, etc. (see 4. Nurturing passive talent from your network for many more ideas).

For candidates in your network, we recommend reaching out as you build your list, so you can take a few minutes to personalize your message. If you’re using Gem, you can personalize and send your emails right alongside LinkedIn without having to jump between tabs.

Consider using text and/or FB messenger for L1 connections and L2 connections you know well. Be sure to mark this in your spreadsheet or 1-click log your outreach in Gem so you know you’ve reached out.