I have been sourcing technical and executive positions for startups for nearly a decade. It’s not an easy job and sometimes it seems thankless. I understand that most recruiters shy away from startups; many won’t work with a start-up until they’re cash-flow positive or have over 20mm in funding, where others will steer clear of them altogether. Personally, I think that’s a mistake.
If you check out some start-up statistics, you will notice that only 56% of businesses make it to the 5th year. You find articles that discuss the “90% start-up failure rate” and others tout about the inexperience of start-up managerial teams and overall risk of start-up companies.
It makes sense why recruiters are so afraid to work with start-ups, the chances of success are not very high for most. On the other side, if the company is successful and does get acquired or IPO’s, your contacts are likely to leave or the company recruitment strategies can simply change focus. You’re constantly starting over again and again and again.
I’m the first to admit that my job isn’t easy. Everyone I have ever known in the industry outside of my mentor, who has since retired, has gone internal. Internal is much simpler. You get to leave work at 5 pm, where my day doesn’t end until 7 or 8 pm on most days. I work weekends and evenings more often than not. I see failure, again and again, only to pick myself back up again and again.
So Why Do We Work With Start-Ups?
Well, I think these articles are all mistaken. Working with start-ups is extremely rewarding and constantly challenging. You’re not just qualifying a job, you’re also qualifying a company, a Founder and every leader in the business. You’re doing research and digging into their financial situation, their culture and the future or the company. Everything is faster; you have to move fast but, at the same time, you have to find the best of the best. It’s quite frankly much more challenging and I find it invigorating.
TBH, I’ve always been the type of person to get bored easily. Before I was 20 I had done 6-8 different jobs and none lasted longer than 6-months. I am now having my 6-year anniversary at Sage Recruiting and that’s because every day is a challenge. In addition to being more challenging, I also find it more rewarding. I have grown so many startups I can’t count (but I will) and I know that I have made a real impact on their businesses.
For instance, I placed the first Software Engineer of Hubdoc, a former-startup that was recently acquired by Xero for 70 million dollars. I was able to place a good portion of the first team at WealthSimple, a former startup that has now grown to over 200 people and manages over 2 billion in assets. I was lucky enough to place a VP at Real Matters before they did one of the biggest IPO’s in Canada and valuing the company at 1 billion dollars and placed countless people at The Secret Location from the start, before their acquisition to Entertainment One.
So How Did We Do?
In order to quantify my success, I decided to do some math. I have actively worked with a total of 12 clients that have sold or done an IPO in the past 5 years. To put this in perspective, in the past five years in Canada, 183 Canadian companies have been acquired. That’s nearly 10% of all acquisitions in Canada … for one person!
Hiring key roles for a start-up that got acquired is extremely rewarding, but it’s certainly not the “end all, be all”. I’ve watched candidates that I have placed grow from developer to lead to the manager to director in a matter of a few years, which is not the type of fast-paced growth you typically see in a big company. I have received cards and gifts from Candidates that have profited from an exit or are simply thankful that they have found their “perfect company”. I am constantly reading reviews about my business from business owners, leaders and candidates that took the time to write on Google to thank me for my work. I’ve had a chance to get to know business leaders and executives on a personal level.
This level of closeness with the owners and leaders is part of what makes me so good at what I do. Yes, start-ups have their challenges, but I wouldn’t trade them in for anything in the world.