Hiring Challenges Series A Startups Face and How to Overcome Them

We recently wrote an article highlighting all the reasons we love recruiting for Series A funded tech startups. We did, however, leave out all the reasons these companies and their Founders are not insulated from current market challenges affecting all startups trying to attract talent.

This article will focus on the three most significant challenges facing Series A startups and how to overcome them to attract and hire the mission-critical Product Management talent.

You Want Perfection

Let's face it, you've waited for what feels like an eternity to start hiring - now you have the money, and your dream is about to become a reality.

The list you've been making of all the requirements and experiences that embody the "perfect" person is ready. You want it all. Sound familiar? The reality is that no one is perfect, as you will soon find out. 

To avoid frustrating and prolonged hiring cycles, we encourage our Founders to drill down to the key experiences that best ensure the greatest likelihood of success in the role.

Avoid getting distracted by baseline requirements, like “great communication skills” or “able to work well with a team.” Instead, screen for these kinds of things in the interview process.

Focus instead on the essentials. Begin by listing the specific requirements and past experiences you consider essential in the candidate you want to hire.

This will likely be a concise list of bullet points, but this list will provide a targeted candidate persona to seek out and, in doing so, save you time. Time meeting candidates whose communication skills and personality may be a fit but whose tactical skills and experiences don’t meet the baseline requirements. 

Essential Criteria Example:

This: Previous experience developing an API strategy that scales product adoption through partners and an ecosystem.

Not: Someone early-to-mid stage in their career who has a lot of hustle, drive and wants the chance to work on cool stuff and could get excited about what we're doing here. Based in Toronto because we want to be able to get together for beers downtown one day.

You Need a Subject Matter Expert 

When budgets are in effect, there is almost always the eternal struggle between needing a subject matter expert vs. an experienced Product Manager. 

This is a natural and valid struggle faced by many Series A leaders we speak with. While there is no doubt that a candidate who understands and can communicate the complex nuances of an industry or product is hard to resist, also remember that most senior-level product leaders have demonstrated, through experience, that they can successfully tackle a new product or industry. 

There is plenty of proof that hiring a non-industry expert can be beneficial as these hires will come in with a fresh perspective - no baggage or prior assumptions. For example, some of the top product leaders in Canadian tech joined companies with little previous experience: 

  • The first product leader to join Freshbooks didn’t have previous experience launching an SMB accounting application.
  • The first product leader to join Thalmic Labs/North didn’t have previous experience launching smart glasses that integrate into Alexa. 
  • The first product leader to join Ecobee didn’t have previous experience launching smart thermostats.
  • The first Product Manager to join Shopify didn’t have previous experience launching e-commerce platforms.

Ideally Located Candidates 

We get it - this is your chance to build a culture and a company. But, if every type of leader you needed to hire was available to you in your city at the budget you could afford, wouldn't that be lovely.

Enter reality, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, good Product Managers can do the job from anywhere. You have a product to release and a business to build, so skills should always trump location.

Those with the right experiences and cultural fit will always find ways to get the job done better than someone who lacks those but sits at a workstation beside you. 

As a Series A leader, tough choices will continue, so it’s important to remember if hiring:

  • A remote person in a different country and time zone is what must be done, then do it. 
  • Someone who is too far for a daily commute is what must be done, then do it. 
  • A person in your city who could come in every day but cannot because they are also a primary caregiver to an aging parent during this pandemic, just do it. 

Budgetary constraints or special experiences may force you to look outside your original hiring geography, but skills and experience will always trump someone’s ability to be physically present in a workspace.

When it comes to hiring product talent for Series A organizations, we’ve seen it all. Often, hiring hang-ups are due to these three reasons - reasons that are all easily rectifiable with a simple redirection of focus. Instead of focusing on everything you want in a hire, focus on what you need to get the product and organization from Series A to Series B. 

Struggling to land the product talent you need to scale? Contact our team today to learn more about our Product Management Recruitment Practice.