For the first few people, hire from your network

Written on 27th May, 2012

We’re lucky enough to have reached the stage with Buffer where we have had to start to think about growing the team. For the first 10 months the team consisted of just myself and Leo. When we arrived in the valley just under a year ago, we weren’t initially looking for funding but after talking with a few people we quickly realised that with product/market fit, good traction and bottlenecks in building as quickly as we wanted to, it made sense for us to consider funding.

We were fortunate to get onto the AngelPad batch last Summer, and as soon as we were accepted we brought on board our third co-founder Tom. After demo day, we raised an angel round and got many smart investors on board too. We’ve been working with some great freelancers, and I’m excited to say that we’ve also just hired our first employee Andy who will start full-time soon.

We’re still figuring out the best approach to hiring, but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve come to realise from the hiring I’ve done so far.

The importance of culture-fit for early hires

One of the things Leo and I talked about a lot in the early days was how we wanted to shape the culture of Buffer. Culture is often a very abstract thing to talk about, but we had specific things we wanted to do such as providing outstanding customer service and having a very positive environment where no ideas are dismissed, no matter how crazy. We’ve definitely been influenced heavily by a few books, the key ones being How to Win Friends and Influence People and Delivering Happiness which we’ve all read and discuss frequently within the team.

Get to know each other first, work on freelance terms

With these values quite clear, I knew that finding people to fit the culture may be difficult. There are a number of great articles out there about hiring employee #1 and many suggest great reasons you should date before getting married. I was therefore convinced that I needed to work with people for a long time, probably on a freelance basis, before they came on board full-time as an employee. This has been a very good thing for us to do, simply because there are personalities of the new hire and the combined personality of Buffer and it could easily not be a good fit.

Better yet, know each other already

Even better than meeting someone new and working with them for a while before bringing them on board is to know them already. That’s how it’s worked for me so far with Buffer. It won’t scale forever, but for the first few hires at least it seems like a perfect approach and is working very well. If you know someone already and have maybe worked on a few side projects together, done a Startup Weekend or Launch48 event together or simply been bouncing projects and challenges off each other, then it’s much easier to have a good gut instinct about whether you will be able to work well together.

How we’ve done it with Buffer

As I mentioned, we’ve now grown the Buffer team, bringing on board Tom as a third co-founder and more recently Andy as our first employee. We’ve used the “hire from your network” approach rather than trying to post jobs in various places. We’ve tried the more traditional method in a minimal way but not had much success.

Tom Moor, Co-Founder and Chief Hacker

After graduating, I headed back to my hometown of Sheffield in the UK and found there wasn’t much going on for startups. After some time, I decided that rather than complain I should create a meetup for startups, and so I did that.

Tom came to the very first meetup, and was by far the most startup-minded and pro-active of all the people who came along. After that we bounced our startups and side-project ideas off each other lots, spent weekends working on our startups together and we went to a Launch48 event together. We knew we were thinking on the same wavelength and could work together. Tom came on board after 10 months when we were still getting off the ground and had many struggles. He’s now integral to Buffer and we would not be where we are without him.

Andrew Yates, iOS Coder and Full Stack Hacker

Whilst I spent some time in Birmingham in the UK, I also created a version of the startup meetup there too. Through that and other networking activities, I met many awesome people and even found freelance work. Andy was someone I met through a friend of a friend in this network, and also someone I started to bump into very regularly at Urban Coffee where I did a lot of coding.

When I launched Buffer, Andy was one of the first to sign up and was also a very early paying customer. In that sense, getting Andy on board was very much what Gabriel Weinberg calls Inbound Hiring. After we had been launched for almost a year, we decided that it made sense to develop an iPhone app, and I knew Andy had been building an awesome app called Magic Bean. We worked on a freelance basis for about 6 months before I asked him to come on board fully. Luckily, he has agreed and will start soon.

How have you approached hiring for your startup? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: Thomas Watson Steen