Startup Hiring 101: A Founder's Guide
Startup Hiring 101: A Founder's Guide

Startup Hiring 101: A Founder's Guide

I’m Steve Bartel, the co-founder and CEO of Gem. Welcome to Startup Hiring 101 where we'll cover all the basics of startup hiring, including step-by-step instructions, example templates, and best practices.

1. Introduction: recruiting is sales
2. Finding & reaching out to great candidates
3. The initial sell conversation
4. Nurturing passive talent from your network
5. How to interview
6. Selling & closing

Who is this for?

This guide is for early-stage startups who have raised enough money to hire their initial team, (e.g. a $1-3M round). It’s meant for founders and founding teams with little to no knowledge about hiring.


If you don’t have the money to hire, you shouldn’t waste time recruiting & hiring. Raise money first, then hire. If you’ve already hired your first recruiter and are looking to scale your hiring, or if you’re a recruiter, sourcer, or talent leader, the Gem blog will have a bunch more content that may be more tailored to you.

Parts of this guide may also be helpful for hiring managers at fast-growing companies who are closely involved in recruiting. In some ways, playing a more active role as a hiring manager is a lot like hiring for a startup within a larger company, especially if you don’t have as much support from your recruiting team.

Why should you care?

Hiring is important. In the startup world, ideas are free; so building a strong team is everything. Once you’ve raised money, hiring becomes your #1 priority and will remain your top priority as the company scales. Hiring is how you get leverage as a founder to scale the work you’re doing and will accelerate your company far more than putting in 80 hour weeks.

Hiring the right team is essential. Not only does having the right team help you move faster today, but it also sets the foundation for everyone you hire moving forward. Both because prospective talent will want to work with your team, and because the great people you hire will know other great people, so hiring the right people will make it easier and easier to continue hiring the right people.

Hiring is hard. As a startup, you are a completely unknown quantity. You have no existing talent brand. You have little to no validation. You are super risky. You can’t pay a high salary. And the types of people you want to hire have tons of options for where to work.

To make things worse, most of us as founders have no clue where to start. Even if you have years of experience recruiting at top companies, you can make rookie mistakes when it comes to building the team for your new startup. And unfortunately, there aren’t many resources out there for founders looking to hire their early team.

But don’t let all of this discourage you — mastering hiring and building a great team is a huge opportunity. Hiring your early team will be a lot of hard work and require learning by doing, but there’s a science to it, which this guide will walk you through. Done right, hiring will become your competitive advantage, propelling you past your competitors towards escape velocity. Not only is the opportunity massive, but putting together a great team you want to work with every day is one of the most rewarding parts of building a startup. It certainly has been for us.

Who am I and why did I write this guide?

I’m Steve Bartel, the co-founder and CEO of Gem. At Gem, we build modern recruiting software, so, naturally, we spend a lot of time thinking about hiring given the product we build.


I also have a ton of hands-on experience with hiring:

  1. Most importantly, I’ve been in your shoes recently. We started Gem less than 3 years ago, and have built an incredible team quickly growing from 0 → 7 → 25 → 75 in less than 3 years.
  2. Learnings from working closely with hundreds of the best recruiting teams at top tech companies (Gem customers) over the past few years.
  3. Dropbox where I spent a ton of my time hiring over the course of 5 years as the company grew from 25 → 1500 people. I learned from some of the best recruiters and sourcers in the industry.
  4. And learned a lot by doing...
    • Sourced & messaged thousands of passive candidates
    • Dozens of campus trips
    • Designed 5 different talks for campus & conferences
    • Revamped our referrals program
    • Wrote job reqs & designed interview loops from scratch (e.g. data science)
    • Interviewed hundreds of candidates
    • Helped close ~100 candidates
    • And even acqui-hired two companies

Given my experience and the product we build, a number of founders reach out to me each month for advice on early-stage hiring. These are friends of mine starting companies, companies I advise and/or invest in, and intros from investors looking to help out new portfolio companies. At this point, I’ve helped ~50 early-stage startups hire their teams.

Personally, though, I’ve received so much startup advice over the years from our investors, YC, and incredible go-to-market operators. But I’ve always found it uniquely valuable to get advice from founders who have been in my shoes. Hiring is one of the areas where I’ve gained some unique experience, so I see this as an opportunity to pay it forward and reach an even broader set of founders and companies. I hope it’s helpful — and if it is, I hope you’ll pay it forward one day too :)

Thank you!

A huge thank you to YCombinator, Ryan Choi, and Jose Guardado who have all been an incredible resource to me since we started Gem. They shaped a ton of my thinking around early-stage hiring and their teachings have been highly influential on the hiring practices we built out at Gem and these resources.

And a special thanks to all of the talent partners, founders, friends and Gems who helped contribute sections and feedback! 🙏

Feedback? Suggestions? Ideas? Comment directly or email 

If you aren’t already using Gem to hire, apply to our free for startups program. Free Gem for 2 years for all of your co-founders and founding team (up to 15 employees).

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