How do you find the right people to join your team? This is one of the struggles a growing startup is faced with, and it can have a major impact on the future of your company. We asked Michael Van de Meirssche, data and digital manager at Jobat.be, and Maarten Verschuere, the founder and CEO of Clever, to take us through the ins and outs of building a solid startup team. “Skills are essential, but fitting into your company culture is even more important.”
The job market is changing every single day and hiring the right talent has become a real challenge for fast-growing companies. One of those companies is Clever, a former Start it @KBC startup that develops intelligent customer service chatbots. “It’s not easy to find the right people”, CEO Maarten admits. “We often need very technical profiles, which are in high demand. But I believe that startups have a competitive advantage compared to big companies: working at a startup is a unique experience. It’s a place where you learn a lot, more than anywhere else.”
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More than just skills
“In order to attract young talent, you need to stand out”, Michael says. Research shows that around 40% of traffic on Jobat.be comes from mobile devices, so offering a mobile-friendly platform is essential to reach people. The first step in any hiring process – the application for the job - should be made as easy as possible.”
Equally important to knowing what to do, is knowing what not to do. According to Maarten, a startup’s biggest pitfall is focusing on skills without looking at someone’s personality. “I fell in love with every candidate who had the right skill set”, Maarten tells, “regardless of their personality. But people have a massive impact on the culture of your company. Hiring people who don’t fit into your culture, is a big mistake.”
“Another common mistake is missing out on funding possibilities. The Belgian government offers ways to subsidize salaries of new hires, like the SME Growth Subsidy of Vlaio or the VDAB IBO arrangements”, Maarten adds. “You have to take these chances as much as you can.”
Startups may not have a big media strategy to recruit talent, but what they do have is a valuable network. By involving your employees, interns, clients and partners to hire new people, you create a team that’s connected and has the right cultural mind-set.
Specialists versus generalists
“Building a solid team, is all about balance”, Maarten explains. “The right mix depends on your business model. At first, you need generalists. You need to get people on board who are able to do anything, from administration to HR, from finance to legal. But once your startup is growing, you need specialists: people that are the best at what they do. I’m a big fan of specialists, because I believe everyone you hire has to be better than yourself. If your startup is average, it won’t survive.”
That balance also includes a mix of experience and potential. “A startup is a place where you learn a lot, but it’s not a school. High potentials are cool, but they need to have the ability to deliver immediately. If a startup fails to deliver a project, it can die. It’s a matter of survival.”
“On the other hand, experience is not the holy grail either”, Michael adds. “Skills, competences and a company fit matter as well. You need to ask yourself: does this person have the potential to grow in the direction we want to go as a company?”
“Fire yourself as much as you can”
There’s no big secret that will tell you when exactly you should hire new people. But when we ask Maarten, he’s pretty clear: “As soon as you can afford it. That means outsourcing your responsibilities step by step. I once heard someone say that as the CEO of a company, your job is to fire yourself as much as you can. But you should always remember that cash is king.”
Does that mean you should ‘hire slow and fire fast’? “It all depends on the profiles you’re looking for”, Michael says. “Startups should be picky, because everyone they hire is going to have an effect on the long-term success of the business. But it’s a gut feeling. If it feels good, just go for it and act fast.”
“The part about firing fast is definitely true” Maarten adds. “A person that is underachieving or affecting your company culture in a negative way, simply needs to go. Even when the workload will get bigger, you’ll still be relieved.
Do you have a question for the Start it @KBC community you want answered in this podcast? Post it in the comments and we might ask our guests your questions in the next episode!
This podcast was made possible by our strategic partners – KBC, Telenet, Cronos group, Accenture, Mobile Vikings, Flanders DC, Joyn, Imec and Universiteit Antwerpen.
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Have you listened to the previous episodes? Episode 7, with Koen Schrever (Bolero Crowdfunding) and Peter-Jan Brone (SettleMint) was all about Funding. In episode 8 we unraveled the secrets of successfully selling to corporates with Brecht Kets of Play it Safe, the game based learning platform for safety and prevention, and Steven Everaert of retail data platform Impaqtr. Episode 9 focused on Crowdfunding, with Jeroen Spitaels of the healthy food service Mealhero.
- Maarten Verschuere is the founder and CEO of Clever, a former Start it @KBC startup that develops chatbots for customer service applications, using AI and data science.
- Michael Van de Meirssche is data and digital manager at Jobat.be, one of Start it @KBC’s partners.
- The VDAB IBO (Individual Professional Education) program gives jobseekers the opportunity to receive professional training on the work floor.
- The SME Growth Subsidy (KMO Groeisubsidie) is an initiative by Vlaio, the Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship Agency, to help SME’s hire new employees.