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Recruiting Executives for Startups: How To Build the Right Team for Your Stage

Will Reed | May 05, 2023| 4 min. read
Birds in a row

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.


When you’re a flourishing new startup, one of your top priorities is hiring your dream team. While who you hire for entry level and junior positions matters, almost nothing is more critical than recruiting executives for your leadership and C-Suite positions. And you can’t just wait for the perfect candidate to waltz in the door (or reach out via email).

Instead, startup leaders need to be proactive about recruiting executives, and doing so in a way that is very different from more established companies.

While there is much uncertainty around leading an early-stage startup, there’s one thing that’s for sure: who you bring on board as your executives makes a big difference, and needs to be approached in a tactful and particular way.

When to start thinking about recruiting executives

To recruit or not to recruit executives, that is the question.

You might be wondering things like:

  • When is the right time for your early-stage startup to think about recruiting executives?
  • Is now too early?
  • Can my company bring in the type of talent I’m looking for at this stage?

It can be a bit of a balancing act to figure out exactly when to start recruiting executives. You also might feel like your brand isn’t strong enough to attract powerhouse candidates.

But keep in mind that recruiting executives is really an investment in your future success. When you bring influential leaders on board in the earliest stages of your company, they can contribute to your company culture and success in a powerful way.

In short: executives can help propel your company to growth.

And while you might be concerned about your brand “attracting” the right executive candidates, that’s where the process of actually recruiting executives comes into play. Even more established companies often go through a recruiting process for executives.

Why is that? It’s often the case that those executives you really want to hire are already employed. They’re not often combing through Linkedin ads, looking for executive openings (although this is sometimes the case). An executive recruiting process is a proactive approach, where you identify potential hires, even if they’re already employed.

With that in mind, it’s almost never too early to think about recruiting executives. But the keyword there is “almost.” Before you do actually start the recruiting process, and begin actually building out your team, there are definitely some things you should have in place, and some early stage hiring tips to keep in mind.

7 things you need before building the team out

If you’re wondering “Are we ready?” when it comes to building out your team, here are some things you should have in place before you start recruiting executives.

1. Company vision

While your company might still be growing and changing, it’s important to have your solidified company vision in place, before you start recruiting executives. This is crucial for a few reasons. Firstly, it’ll help you identify leaders who can actually contribute to that vision, and who have ideas to bring to the table to help further it. This will also ensure that the executives you hire also wholly believe in your vision, and want to help your company achieve it.

Plus, this will help ensure strong internal leadership collaboration and alignment. You don’t want to have an executive or leader come on board trying to shift your company vision, potentially leading to friction.

2. List of roles to fill

Before you start the executive recruiting process, you should know exactly who you’re looking to hire across the board. This helps you identify potential skills gaps, and where your executives are needed most. Especially for early-stage startups with limited funding, making accurate and pointed hires is important when it comes to resources. If you know exactly what roles you have to fill, you can identify precisely what types of leaders you need.

3. Employer branding

While you might feel like your brand isn’t quite strong enough to pull in top-tier executives on its own, there are some things you can do (even as a new startup) that can help make your brand presence as strong as possible. Having your employer branding solidified and widely used is crucial for unified messaging, forward-facing appearance, and internal solidarity. But it’s also important for being an appealing option for potential executives.

Think of it this way: you don’t want to work with a bank that has logos all over the place, a shoddy website, and graphics that look like they were drawn up on MS Paint. Having concrete employer branding helps your business appear legitimate to everyone, including potential executives.

4. Onboarding process

Your onboarding process needs to be solid for every new hire, so that they start off on the right foot, with all of the information they need to succeed at your company. The last thing you want is to hire your ideal executive and then have them go through a rocky onboarding process themselves. This can jeopardize the hire and the future of their relationship with your company.

5. Finances & accounting

You might be unsure if you have the fiscal resources to hire executives, and it makes sense as a startup. But the best way to understand the state of your finances and accurately gauge your financial situation is to have all of your finances and accounting in place.

For example, you might feel like you have a surplus of cash, but in actuality you have that same amount due in tax liabilities in two months. Or maybe your business isn’t properly keeping track of cash flow in and out of the business. By having an excellent grasp on your finances and accounting, you’ll know exactly where you stand today, and can best prepare for the future.

6. Goals

Where do you want your company to go? Where do you see it in one year, or in five years? Having these goals outlined might seem intimidating, because they might change, or you may think you’re unlikely to reach them. But that’s okay all the same, because setting your goals is the first step to actually putting them in motion.

Potential executive hires will likely ask about your company goals, and you should be able to give them a concrete answer. This also helps identify which executives are the right fit to help you reach them.

7. Logistics

Is your team fully remote, or will you be working on a hybrid system? Are there ways for team members to join calls from anywhere, and do you have a CRM in place? Having a framework for your logistics is important for ensuring smooth sailing across the board, but it’s also important to have in place before recruiting executives. You don’t want to hire an awesome executive only to encounter issues with your daily Zoom meeting. Sort out the biggest technical bugs before you bring on leadership members.

Recruiting executives shouldn’t just be a symptom of growth, it should be a cause.

Some startups wait until they experience growth to hire executives, but this means that they’re playing catch-up. Instead, early-stage startups can take a proactive approach to recruiting executives in order to spur growth.


Note: This article has been updated to reflect the current hiring landscape.