12 Ways to Get an Industry Rock Star to Join Your Startup

Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

When you’re a young entrepreneur, you might be excited to start something with your peers. However, you likely also recognize that more experienced talent would help you out. If you don’t have years of industry experience, you’re probably making more than a few rookie mistakes. The right talent, especially on your senior leadership team, can help you make better decisions as you grow.

So how do you convince more experienced folks to join your team, especially when your startup is relatively unproven? Twelve young entrepreneurs from YEC share the tactics they used to convince industry rock stars to sign on.

Let Them Make A Difference

In my experience, the best more-experienced hires tend to be the executives with big-company experience who appreciate the difference they can make in a smaller environment with much faster decision-making. Someone who led a sales or product development team can make more independent decisions and have a much bigger impact in a startup environment. In a meritocracy, the standout performers will be recognized and acknowledged, creating a very positive feedback loop. Elliot Bohm, CardCash

Focus On Vision And Challenges To Solve

In the current market environment, talented senior people have a huge number of opportunities. As a startup, you will not be able to compete on compensation, and if you do attract someone because you’re the highest bidder, be ready to lose them when someone else inevitably has more money. Focus your recruiting on what problems you’re trying to solve and what your bigger vision is. We recently brought on a technical lead who’d spent the previous four years at a high-growth startup. He was passionate about our vision, but also loved the culture of our company. Make someone happy with their team and fulfilled in their projects, and you’ll have a great long-term partner. Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

Make It Exciting

Many people love the idea of a startup, but personal situations do not always allow them to start something from scratch on their own. If they can plug themselves into a startup that is a bit more established and use their expertise and skill to make it better, that can be an exciting change for their career. They are no longer just a cog in a machine, and can truly make a difference. Letting them participate in the financial upside when the company is a success also makes it more compelling, and makes them feel like they are part of something. Jay Johnson, Small Lot Wine

Always Be Improving

We were told by a veteran in the industry that one of the most exciting parts of our organization is the sense that we are “tinkering”—innovating by looking under the hood of the model and striving for creative ways to make it better. For more experienced folks, the lure of being able to “tinker,” to try new things and break out of more firmly rooted ways of thinking, can be appealing. Lindsay Tanne, LogicPrep

Have Them Talk To Founders And Early Employees

The proof is in the pudding for more experienced professionals. Have them connect with your cofounders and early employees, and hear directly from them why they left their previous jobs to work with you. The people on your team can tell the story of why it’s worth it to work at your startup from a different perspective, one that’s not as invested in the outcome of recruiting as yours. Potential new hires with more experience will also appreciate this as a sign of confidence that the people already on your team are happy with their work and enjoy themselves at your startup. Make sure to connect these potential experienced new hires with people within your company who have a similar background and history to their own, so it’ll be easier for them to relate to each other. Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff

Match Their Purpose

We recently hired a VP with more than 20 years of experience who had an offer from us (a fast-growing but midsize PR firm) and an offer from a publicly traded powerhouse company. There’s no way we could have competed on stock options, perks, 401K, salary, and so forth. What it came down to for her was that we had a need that perfectly aligned with the purpose she was pursing in her career. In her former position, she was hired for one roll, but the company truly needed her to do something else (which she did). Now she’s with us, doing exactly what we said we needed, which is what she wanted all along, and she’s flourishing. Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications

Bring Them On As A Cofounder

I met my current cofounder when he reached out to me via LinkedIn. We’re both from the same city and when we met to discuss further, I was very impressed by his honesty and willingness to build something together. We needed to figure out if we were a good fit, and also how much of our own money we were willing to put up for bootstrapping our company. Because he met me with a spirit of collaboration and sharing, I was much more willing to be open about my own finances. We settled on an equal contribution of startup capital that was feasible for us both, committed to sharing equity 50-50 and haven’t looked back since. I was an experienced entrepreneur and software development consultant at that point, but I was willing to come on board because I was treated fairly, as an equal. Jared Brown, Hubstaff

Show Them Your Plan For Success

Do not just convince, but show the individual where you are going and how you are going to get there. Allow them to believe they are an integral piece of the plan. A potential employee will want to join something they feel like they are a part of, and also something that is headed in the right direction. Jayna Cooke, Eventup

Let Your Product Speak For Itself

My company, Uassist.me, has some really amazing partnerships right now. You really don’t have to do a lot of convincing if your service or product speaks for itself. For us, it’s been a matter of having a person sign up to work with one of our virtual assistants, and after working with us for a while, coming to realize they want to be part of our team and what we’re building. Alfredo Atanacio, Uassist.me

Make It Easy To Say Yes

Everyone has different motivations and desires. Try to determine why each candidate is interested in your company, and then focus on the important items. This could be responsibility, prestige, money or a hundred different things. If you can identify their true desires then you can make your best effort to give them an offer they can’t refuse. When we made a key C-level hire we faced this exact problem. As a small company we did not have the bank balance to compete on straight salary, but the individual placed huge value on flexibility, responsibility and a feeling of ownership. These were things we could easily accommodate while other, more cash-rich companies could not. The result has been fantastic, and we got to add some much needed “grey hair.” Douglas Hutchings, Picasolar

Develop Experienced Executives As Advisors

One approach to getting the best people in the world excited about your business is to develop them as advocates, and to be less concerned initially about the specific role they could potentially play. A lower commitment advisory role is a great way for someone to get to know you and the business, see the trajectory of your business first hand and get excited about what you’re doing. Katrina Lake, Stitch Fix

Showcase Your Own Background

“Startup” can be a dirty word to some people in sectors like real estate and finance, so it’s important to build a strong bridge between expertise and opportunity. Let potential senior hires know how your own background and experiences shaped your outlook and led you to your current venture. Heather Schwarz-Lopes, EarlyShares

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read

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