Tag Archives: hiring

Lessons From Our First Hiring Mistake

19 Jun

Now HiringThree weeks after we made our first contract-to-hire job offer at GoodApril, we pulled the plug.

As a two-person startup, we recognize that making our next three hires will set the culture and trajectory of our company for years to come.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to turn down qualified candidates who fill most, but not all, of your expectations – last week we made the hard choice to go back to the drawing board and find the right candidate, even at the cost of short-term productivity.

“Hire Slow, Fire Fast” is harder than it sounds

That old adage sure sounds great when presented in the abstract, but in the midst of the early entrepreneurial sprint, it’s much harder than you would expect.

Here’s our entrepreneurial reality: we are two people in week 6 of the 12 week TechStars startup accelerator.  The pressure for us to execute is intense – we know that potential investors are evaluating us and the progress we make.  Two of our top goals during the program are to launch a beta version of our forthcoming real-time tax planning product (announced at FinovateSpring) and to assemble the core team that will enable us to prove out our business idea to provide online tax planning services to individuals.

So, six weeks ago we met an amazing CTO candidate – a recently departed senior engineer from a major tax filing company.  He had seven years experience building tax software, he had the right entrepreneurial mindset (offering to take no salary until we closed our seed round), and his references were glowing.  We could just imagine how much more progress we could make on our product, and how much more credible our team was going to look to investors at the big “Demo Day” at the end of the accelerator program.

Two weeks ago our candidate hit the ground on a two week contract-to-hire test.  On Friday, we decided to call it quits, despite all of those pluses.  The experience helped us discover what was important in our hiring process.

GoodApril’s Hiring Manifesto

We Will Hire Better Than Ourselves

It’s important that we stretch ourselves and our team’s capabilities by hiring people who are strong in areas where we are not.  The biggest thing that went wrong with our hiring process was that we discovered our CTO candidate couldn’t keep pace with my co-founder, Benny, from a pure technology development perspective. While Benny is a talented engineer, he’s also got an MBA and two years experience as a Product Manager – we need our CTO to be a better developer than he is. The same holds true for making a hire in any other functional area: marketing, business development, etc.

We Will Hire “Swiss Army Knives” (for now)

As a small team can’t afford to hire team-members with narrow functional capabilities – we should be hiring diversely talented generalists who can help provide coverage across multiple elements of our business.  Our candidate had strengths that were extremely relevant to product design, team management, and some specific elements of tax software, but didn’t have as much ability to make hands-on contributions in other areas.

We Will Reward Entrepreneurial Ambition

On the positive end, our candidate truly impressed us with his willingness to take risks in pursuit of our entrepreneurial vision.  In exchange for his willingness to take less salary, we agreed to over-compensate him with equity.  We recognize not everyone can afford to take as much risk as others, but those willing to take more risk should see greater upside.

Now Hiring

As we move forward, I’m sure we’ll continue to develop more of a point of view on how to hire – I’ll be sure to share those here as well.  In the meantime, if you’re a full-stack software engineer looking to take a lead development, or even CTO role, please check out the GoodApril careers page and get in touch.

Photo Credit: Zach Klein

How to Trend on AngelList: GoodApril’s Success

6 May


AngelList is now a critical part of the startup toolkit.  It helps emergent companies attract talent and investors, and apply to incubators.  Learn how GoodApril was able to “trend” on AngelList, and the benefits of doing so.

Trending on AngelList

Why “Trending” on AngelList Matters

Attracting a large following on AngelList is helpful for raising money, hiring employees, and gathering the “social proof” that other startup-insiders think your idea is compelling. There are thousands of startups listed on AngelList, but only a few are highly visible at any moment – these are either “featured” (curated by the AngelList team) or “trending” (adding lots of followers in a short period of time), and are listed on the website and in a weekly email to users.

Partially as a result of being featured as a trending startup, GoodApril was able to attract 175 followers on AngelList, the majority of whom had no prior connection to us, within one week of listing on the platform.  The talent service found a match of mutual interest between us and 21 job candidates, and gave us exposure to at least 100 more over the next month.  While GoodApril has not pursued external funding, when we do, we already have several investors who have pre-emptively expressed interest through the platform.

How to Get Your Startup Into the “Trending” Section

The basic key to trending is to add as many followers in as short a time period as possible.  It’s not formally stated, but we believe that AngelList also considers how “popular” the people are who are following you – so it’s most valuable to add followers who have a large number of followers themselves.

Ironically, the most effective way to gather new followers for your startup is to be listed in the “trending” section of the website in the first place.  What it takes to be successful at growing your follower base, therefore, is to rapidly harvest your own network, and then ride the wave of new “organic” followers as you begin to trend to stay there.

How to Get Prepared:

  1. Find all your allies already on AngelList – If you use other social networking tools like LinkedIn, it is very easy to find your network on AngelList.  Click your profile, then “Find Friends,” and connect your social network profiles.  You are presented with a list of people in your network already on AngelList – comb through this list a bit and begin following people you actually know or whose updates you might find interesting.
  2. Prioritize your allies for outreach – Now go to your own profile, click the number of people you are “Following”, then “All [XXX] following.”  This presents a full list of the people you just added or were already following.  Take this list and move it into a spreadsheet.  Put the number of followers each of these people has into a second column and sort.  This is your prioritized list for outreach.
  3. Ask your most prominent non-investor advocate to be your “referrer” – Using your new “allies on AngelList” spreadsheet, you now have a hit-list of potential “referrers”.  It’s not publicly stated how this person influences your listing, but they are prominently listed on your profile page.  I recommend contacting and getting a commitment from this person in advance.
  4. Get your non-AngelList Allies Listed – Ask any advisors, employees, investors, lawyers, or other advocates who aren’t already on the service to create a profile in advance of publishing.  Ask, in particular, that they include a photo – a profile page full of photo-less profiles is shady.

Begin your Outreach:

  1. Begin building your profile in “draft” mode – You can add your advisors, lawyers, investors, and referrer while your company is still in “draft” mode.  This enables you to get all your loose ends together before publishing.
  2. Go “live” and individually email your allies – While it is tempting to send a blast email to ask folks to follow you, refrain.  Individual emails, with some thoughtful work put into crafting it to your relationship and most recent conversations, are critical to driving up the number of people who actually take the trouble to click “follow.”  So bust out your prioritized list of people in your network, and start emailing.  Pro tip: draft these emails before you go live so you can just click “send” on launch day.
  3. Publish to Social Media – This should be obvious, but it’s also a good idea to send out a call for help to your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Tell your friends that you’ve debuted on AngelList and that their “follow” will help you get noticed by potential investors (this message seems to be easily understood by people even unfamiliar with tech startups).  We found that this was a helpful way to have a second “touch” with our network to remind them about the individual email we had sent earlier in the day.
  4. Do follow-ups 3 days later –  Even writing individual emails, it took us nearly 200 emails and a social media blast to reach ~75 followers.  We pulled in another 10 or so by going back through our list of new followers, cross-referencing that to our Allies list, and sending a follow-up to the folks we thought were likely to support us.

Timing your Listing (and Trending) on AngelList

The only real benchmark for success for a company is ultimately growing a large base of customers who value and pay (directly or indirectly) for your service.  Despite knowing this, it is very seductively ego-boosting to watch your company’s base of followers grow.  Try not to get too distracted by it.

As I mentioned at the start, we saw many quantifiable benefits of trending on AngelList.  Other incredible benefits included getting noticed by some folks in the accounting industry, who provided the first bit of press attention for us.  An investor spotted us and introduced us to the executive team at a major player in our industry, which led to valuable business development meetings.  Finally, we saw significant traffic to our site and dozens of prospect customer signups.

There is a cost to trending, however.  It takes valuable time and attention from the founders – you have to do the cost-benefit analysis yourself on that one.  It’s also hard to sustain, and you more or less have one good shot at it (until your product and/or investment news is powerful enough to bring on a second or third wave).  Others have written that you shouldn’t post until you are already mid-way into your fundraising cycle.  In our case, we listed before we were even seeking funding, and we’re happy we did.

That’s our story, but if you want to hear another entrepreneur’s experience, check out Justin Thiele’s article with his advice and experience with trending on AngelList.

Do you have an AngelList success story of your own to share?  Please leave a comment!