April 29, 2021

A founder’s role in recruiting

A founder pitches his startup to a group of onlookers



“At Swing, we say founders are always recruiting: recruiting customers, investors and talent.”
– Debbie Wissel, VP of Growth at SwingSearch

I joined M12 from Microsoft’s HR organization, where I held roles in strategy and learning & development. With this background, I’ve been naturally curious about talent opportunities and challenges in the startup ecosystem. In my role as a portfolio development manager, I work closely with a handful of M12’s portfolio companies supporting all aspects of their growth and partnership with Microsoft. But along the way, I’ve fielded my share of HR-related questions as well: inquiries about compensation structures, requests for interview best practices, and asks about executive recruiting. It’s increasingly clear that finding the right talent to scale a startup is a critical business challenge that can keep founders up at night. While I’m always happy to lend my experience, I’m also thrilled when I can pass the mic to an expert to share learnings and insights with our portfolio companies.

A few weeks ago, we partnered with SwingSearch—a talent recruitment agency for startups and high-growth companies—to coordinate a webinar about a founder’s role in recruiting. We were excited to host Mandy Edmund, COO and Debbie Wissel, VP of Growth along with a small group of our portfolio companies to hear strategies for recruiting world-class talent (without breaking the bank) in an intensely competitive landscape. Here are some key takeaways from the session:

Mandy explained that it’s important to get clear on what you can afford salary-wise. For Seed and Series A stage companies, their first GTM hire’s salary can range from $130-200K depending on their level of seniority and management experience. Once you set your compensation budget, visit your list of business priorities, and refine the list of qualifications you are looking for in a candidate. Let’s take your first marketing hire, for example:

  • Need to quickly grow your pipeline through inbound marketing? You are looking for a performance marketer who can build digital marketing campaigns and speed up your sales cycles.
  • Looking to define your market positioning, messaging, and pricing? You are likely searching for a traditional product marketer with deep technical expertise.
  • Hoping to appeal to the enterprise buyer? You may be looking for a more sophisticated integrated marketer with brand, storytelling, and creative experience.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Option Impact by Advanced HR is a collaborative compensation database to help private companies discern what they can and should pay for talent.

What’s better than a great finance manager? A great finance manager who knows your target customer inside and out. Recruiting talent from your dream customers is a strategic way to gain valuable knowledge about sales cycles and buyer decisions. Of course, this is not a substitute for skill sets—that should be your top priority. But once you’ve defined the superpowers you need, market map your customers (you can leverage LinkedIn Recruiter and LinkedIn Talent Insights) to create target pools of candidates. Make a list of your top 200 potential customers and start sourcing.

“1 in 3 employees would prefer to work for an organization that shows responsibility toward all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers and communities.”

– Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends

As you start recruiting talent it’s important to pitch your company to candidates just like you would pitch to a customer. Here are some starter questions to help you develop a company value proposition that will draw in candidates:

  • What is your company’s mission?
  • How will the impact of this role further that mission?
  • What is your total addressable market and what early successes can you share?
  • Who are your competitors and how are you differentiated from them?

When crafting your pitch, don’t underestimate the power of a purpose-driven approach: Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends report highlights that 1 in 3 employees would prefer to work for an organization that shows responsibility toward all stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers and communities.

M12 portfolio company Zipwhip is a great example to reference as you start answering some of these questions. Zipwhip—consistently rated one of Washington state’s best workplaces—does an excellent job of promoting their value proposition to prospective employees.

As a founder, you’re wearing multiple hats, and recruiting can be a daunting task. I hope that the takeaways and resources above demystify the process a bit and generate some confidence as you embark on building your game-changing team!