Startup Pains Begin With Finding Strong Candidates

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2010-08-31

The cliche that a company is only as good as its employees may be most true when talking about technology startups. After obtaining seed money from venture capitalists, tech startups need to hire several key employees to help build out the business vision that has been created--and finding those key first employees is crucial.

The challenge, as a recent Slate article profiling the Silicon Valley tech startup RethinkDB points out, is not only to find someone who says they have the skills on paper; it's to find someone who can show their skills in action and quickly. Star developers and programmers, for example, are not a dime a dozen. Many are working for leading companies with strong benefit packages, sushi chefs, Playstations and ample commuting options already. Poaching talent may sound like an option, but for only those startups willing to share in the ownership and founding-member profits.

Most recruiting efforts for startups, the article claims, fail to live up to finding qualified candidates and end up wasting months and months of time and energy. In the case of RethinkDB, four months of searching and interviewing got them a lot of headaches and no employees. So they turned to the Internet and found a few sites where they could see people working in action (and could find people excited about technology) rather than listening to people talk up what they couldn't prove.

In a hiring climate in which companies find talented workers by seeing how they already perform, the RethinkDB founders turned to sites like and, where programmers collaborate and work on special projects. "You can see the code being written and how technically accurate they are," said Glukhovsky [Michael Glukhovsky, one of the founders of RethinkDB], who inhabits a world where 95 percent of coders can't complete basic computer-science tasks. Now, a few months from releasing their first product, RethinkDB is up to six people, a mix of full-timers and interns, both senior and junior.

The other issue is cultural fit which is being handled in some cases via video pre-screening. Ironically, several startups are now offering screening services to find out if someone is a good fit before bringing them in for interviews. Some pre-screening services are using psychologists who evaluate surveys to see if employees are cultural matches.

The bottom line for technologists is the rules for obtaining an interview, showing your experience, proving problem solving skills and hiring have changed and will continue to evolve.

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