Recruit like a pickup artist: Peacocking

Fusball fatigue

Startups claim to be disruptive and innovative, but most of them are sheep. This is especially true when it comes to in office perks. Everybody has a ping pong table, keg, and does a god damn scavenger hunt.

This herd mentality has made it rather hard for startups to stand out and attract talent via the ever elusive “culture fit” angle.

So, how do you stand out?




Think like a pickup artist

In the early 2000s, a book came out that affected the lives of many sexually frustrated young men : The Game, by Neil Strauss.

The book told of a wonderful world where picking up and sleeping with women could be broken down into a step by step process. A place where an AFC (Average Frustrated Chump) could become a PUA (Pick up Artist) through self improvement. Did I mention they used a ridiculous number of acronyms?

Like many impressionable young males, I read it and immediately was drawn in. The prospect of picking up women while using techniques that sounded like they were from Dungeons and Dragons? Count me in!

Although slightly ridiculous, the book opened me up to a principle which I have seen being used time and time again in various walks of life: peacocking.

Urban dictionary defines peacocking as: “dressing for attention. Just like Peacock’s use their feathers to get a mate.”

In the world of chatting up people at a bar, it would equate to wearing a feathered cap or a zoot suit – a bit ridiculous but enough to grab somebody’s attention and start a conversation.

And in a world where a good developer is the hot girl at the bar, peacocking can work in The Startup Game too.



Here are a few examples –

Google’s 20% time.

Zappos offering $2000 to quit.

Ticket Evolution capping work at 40hours/week.

HubSpot offering $30,000 dollars for a referral

Treehouse’s 4 day workweek



Aren’t these methods phony?

The companies obviously claim that they work. Googlers have created some popular applications on 20% time. Presumably many less committed Zappos employees are no longer there. But in reality who knows? And who cares.

Because more importantly, all these perks allow those startups to stand above the fray. Beyond the beer infused, hackathon led, pizza and pingpong covered chaos below them.

They are effectively peacocking.



How you can peacock at your own startup

The key to peacocking is to cross the line of acceptability, without going into the outrageous.

Enough to get people talking.

Of course beer, ping pong, massages, and laundry are acceptable. They keep employees at the office for longer, and so they can get more work done. You need to do something bolder than that.

Give away your two most prized commodities – money and time. Its not really giving them away either, its simply entrusting your team with them. And presumably, you should trust your team. Right?

Offer to reimburse a developers college tuition if he stays for 1 year.
Offer to donate at least 30k to the candidate’s charity of choice.
Impose French vacation laws (5 week minimum)

Do something highly personalized: go beyond the “its your bday and you said you love carrot cake, so here it is!”. Over time, figure out what the developer loves, and reward him with that. Loves photography? Get him the latest camera. Foodie? Get him tickets to Vendys. You get the idea.

Now get your thinking caps on, and make sure to add a feather! :)


How to hire your first internal recruiter

It hits you in different ways. Sometimes its the $100k invoice from an external headhunter who just placed 4 people at your startup. Sometimes its the fact that you ran out of “friends” to bring on board. Sometimes its the painful realization that if you don’t hire a full time developer now, your product roadmap might as well be a work of fiction.

These many roads lead to this realization, but its the same realization none the less. Its time to hire an internal recruiter!

Its the “hire that keeps on hiring”, and there are a few usual suspects that you will most likely encounter when searching. Here are the advantages and pitfalls for each.




If you are hiring a career internal recruiter

This is the obvious choice. An internal recruiter from another startup knows how things are done. He/she can set up the interviews with the dev team, do phone screens, and get to know the candidate well. Its a shoe-in for the most part.

Bonus points if they’ve been at a fast growing startup and had to manage the hiring and on-boarding of dozens of people at a time (really hard).

They might parade around names of hot startups that they worked at, but beware – internal recruiters often suffer from the infamous “HR syndrome”.

Symptoms of this horrible affliction include non-stop talk about “team building”, “company culture”, and “bonding activities” among others. Victims will  have tons of ideas for events, meetups, and new pinball games to put in the common area.

The other major symptom is a near total absence of just picking up the goddamn phone and getting that Ruby dev into the office NOW!

Being “all about people and culture” is great and all, but it doesn’t close in demand candidates.

Good questions to test for HR Syndrome are: “how do you find candidates? what is your close rate? what sort of support have you had?”. Basically, you need to test to see how much initiative they took versus how much simply fell in their laps.

Remember, many internal recruiters are people who could not cut it at an agency.




If you are hiring a career external recruiter

There are many external recruiters who wake up one day and experience a profound existential crisis. “Sure I make money” they’ll say, “but all I do is sling resumes left and right…WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?”. They want to build something, be more strategic, use more than 5% of their brain. Where could be a better place for them to find meaning than at your startup?

If you hire a good external recruiter, you’ll have access to an unprecedented level of hustle. You’ll have somebody who is deal focused, and won’t rest until its done. Somebody who is not afraid to pick up the phone, and can close a candidate with their eyes closed. You’re VP of Sales will be jealous!

And that blessing can also be a curse. You see, some recruiters who have been at an agency for long enough just stop giving a crap. They might pay lip service to culture, strategy, and team building, but they care only about the deal. Little do they realize that they’ll be sitting right next to the people they hire!

What to do? Filter for intelligence, industry knowledge, and passion. Ask your self if this guy or gal is in it for the long haul. External recruiters have the luxury of not working on job openings that they dislike. Not so when they become your internal recruiter and you need a hard to find candidate. Do they know anything about your tech stack, about your competitors, your potential partners? Do they read up on the industry, funding rounds…etc…? Dial your BS detector all the way to Hi Power.

Remember, you need a soldier, not a mercenary.




Take a salesperson, and give them a makeover

Why hire somebody from outside your startup, when the raw talent might very well be staring at you in the face? Indeed, recruiters and salespeople are two sides of the same coin, and if you have a sales team then you very well might have a recruiter in the midst.

The kind of person you would be looking for would be a bit of a softer seller, and a bit more strategic (read: intelligent) than the average.

A good option is to take an early sales person who was there in the early days trying to prove your product/market fit and now is just sort of selling. He is smart enough to build a team, and knows your company inside and out. He might be bored in his current role, and could welcome the switch.

A word of warning: don’t use a journeyman as a recruiter. Journeymen are those relentless, slightly robotic sales guys who need the collateral and a call list, and they are on their way. They are great once you have a product market fit, because they just won’t quit. But they are way too brutish for recruiting. You’re selling somebody a JOB – that is a much bigger deal psychologically than selling a new CRM system. It requires the requisite subtlety.




Beware of the old curmudgeonly recruiters

This is probably true in many industries, but I’ve noticed it big time in recruiting. I remember when I was a wide eyed newbie recruiter, and I had my first conversation with a guy like that.

It felt like I was working at the DMV or USPS. Not good.

So who are these guys?

These are your “do my 9-5, send out my Inmails, go home” kind of guys. They are often contract recruiters, and bounce around from place to place, plying their trade. They’ve done everything a thousand times, are impressed by nothing, and are just going through the motions…waiting for the weekend and retirement check.

Don’t hire these people. Not only do they suck, but they’ll also suck the life out of your startup.



I hope this provides some clarity on finding your first internal recruiter!


3 Gmail plugins every recruiter should have

I’m sure you’re a good talker, and a great closer – but there are some things that only a good tech tools can do. Here are 3 great gmail plugins to give you the steroids you so desperately seek :)


Become an email peeping tom! The great voyeur of the the Internet! But not in a creepy way!

Yesware allows you to see whenever somebody opens an email from you. It will even tell you the location and the type of device (mobile, desktop…). It all sits on a nifty bar above your

Cool trick: follow up emails. If you see that somebody has opened your email 4 times in the same hour, its clear that he’s interested. Hit him up again with an easy call to action.

Free trial. 5 bucks/month after.


Woody Allen once said “showing up is eighty percent of life”. If email existed in 1977, he would have replaced it with “following up”. But how to do it?

Boomerang will remind you that somebody never responded, at the time interval that you specify. Just sit back, and wait until you get reminded to follow up.

Cool trick: Scheduling emails. Want to stagger out your sales emails so that you can manage responses? Schedule emails to be sent at specific times. Also, great if you want to pretend your working on a weekend or really late…

Basic: Free
Personal: 5 bucks/month
Pro: 15 bucks per month


Rapportive pulls all the social data from a given email address. Just type in an email and up will pop the person’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook…etc…

Its a great way to quickly see what this person is about without doing any research, and also see what they look like – more useful than you’d think.

Cool trick: Rapportive is the ultimate email tester tool. Just type an email in…wait for a potential match, and bingo! If you want to do that at scale, here is an doc for you.

Owned by LinkedIn. Free


Why did that other startup hire that great engineer, and mine didn’t?

“I’ve decided to accept another offer, and so would like to withdraw my candidacy.

Oh how many times have those words made a startup’s heart sink! You had gotten along so well in the interviews, he aced all the coding tests and even suprised your engineers with some ways to improve the site’s architecture. And now, he’s going somewhere else.

So what do you do? Blame. You blame Techcrunch for featuring the other startup every other day. You blame your tech team for not being available enough to answer the candidates questions as quickly as possible. You blame the recruiter for not closing this one for you. You blame VCs for pumping millions into these non-businesses who are doling out ridiculous offers.

I have lost tens of thousands of dollars because of these words, and so I have tried very hard to figure out how I could possibly reduce their frequency in the future.

Here is what I found.

What separates the best from the rest? The best think like salesmen. The rest think like evaluators.

Let’s play Which One of These is Not like the Other?

The SATs, Driving Test, Series 7, Job Interview

Simple game, I know. But this truth is often forgotten about.

Think about it. All interviews are geared towards candidate evaluation. How good are his tech chops, how intelligent is he, how does he fit in culturally, how committed is he in the long term? This is the sort of information that one tries to get out of a job interview. And so you figure it out, and then make him an offer. And then you’re screwed.

I encourage you to ask these questions instead. What frustrates him in his current job? What does he want to be when he grows up? What does he want to do in 5 years? Does he want to start his own company one day? What technologies excite him? What is he passionate about aside from his job?

You can dismiss it as emo-fluff, but that is the sort of stuff that counts aside from the dollar amount. And don’t think you can try to ask those at the end either – these are questions you can only ask in the beginning of an interview process. Otherwise it simply does not sound genuine.

In a world where there are 10 jobs for 1 developer, you have to think like a salesman.


The Complete Guide to Managing External Recruiters

You posted the job only yesterday afternoon.You spent hours trying to write the cleverest posting possible, but haven’t seen a single “Ruby on Rails Sensei” that you asked for. Instead, your bait attracted a different sort of animal. Enter, the external recruiter.

They are the traveling salesmen of the talent market, quick to tout the greatness of any company that pays them. At best, they combine in depth market knowledge with unparalleled hustle. At worst, they are babbling idiots who clog up your inbox and hurt your brand in the talent marketplace.

So what to do about them?

As an ex-agency recruiter, I might be a bit biased. But a great recruiter is like refined rocket fuel for your company. He or she will put you in front of amazing people, and in the process you’ll learn more and more about the market and how to interview, negotiate and close candidates yourself.

The problem is that somebody with an IQ of 80 could still buy a phone and a Linkedin Pro account, and start an “agency”. The barriers to entry are effectively zero. Dirtbags, idiots, layabouts….everybody’s a recruiter in a hot market!

Where to find and choose an external recruiter
Referral is best: like a good barber or a good real estate broker, a good recruiter is best discovered by word of mouth. Ask fellow entrepreneurs, VCs, anybody who has used one in the past.

Flip the funnel: has somebody tried to recruit you? If so, what did they send you? How did they sell the opportunity? And most importantly, would you be comfortable having that same recruiter email a potential developer with a similar email but representing you?

Look for signs of long term partnership: most recruiters can’t see beyond the next dollar. Look for recruiters who participate in the community other ways. Do they have a blog (not a shitty one), hold events (not obvious recruiting ones), and generally have a voice in the space? If so, that is good. Its also very rare.

Questions to ask a recruiter on the first meeting
I have done more client meetings than I can remember, and most of them are pretty pointless. You’ll find that a lot of meetings with recruiters have this bullshit air to them. There is not product to show, no platform to demo, just a guy saying “I’m the best in the business” without much to back it up.

Cut through the crap with these questions:

Can you give me 2 or 3 ways that you source talent?
Find out if they spend their time trolling job boards, or do they go out and approach employed candidates. The latter is better.
What’s a good place to recruit out of right now.
Gauge their knowledge of the startup landscape
What tools do you use?
Find out if they hustle and go out and find people, or just use monster.com
What’s a success story of yours?
Go beyond the simple “I am awesome” talk that you will hear from a recruiter
Can I talk to somebody about that?
Make them put their money where their mouth is

Beware of using too many recruiters

Its tempting to just say: “I’ll open my jobs to everybody, in any case I’ll only pay if we place somebody.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks and a superstar developer is getting cold called by somebody who sounds like they’re operating out of a special ed school in Bangladesh, trying to sell him on YOUR startup.

Fast forward a month or so, and the whole tech community hates you.

That’s not good. Not good at all.

Solution: do a test period and give one role to each recruiter. If you have one very urgent role, you can assign the same role to 2 or 3. But basically don’t whore out your job search. You’re a more respectable startup than that.

Identify a good one, and become her best friend.

Too often startups and clients in general treat an external recruiter with dismissiveness, sort of like a necessary evil that they just have to deal with. They will do this even after the recruiter has placed game changing employees in their company.

To those companies I say: You are fools and you shall die with a whimper!

I mean come on. If you have a web startup, the ONLY thing that matters is your people. You should treat a good external recruiter like KFC treats their best chicken supplier, like Kim Jung Un treats his best missile supplier, like….OK you get the idea :)

Take her to the company outings, send her schwag. Be the first to offer her a referral or recommendation. Send exclusive business her way. Pay her well and on time. She’s so used to being treated badly that she’ll love it, and probably help you even more.

Be a proactive client

Once you’ve found a few quality recruiters, your work is not over. Don’t just sit there and wait for resumes! Help a recruiter out! You guys are on the same team after all.

Ask to go to the agency to pitch: most recruiters probably have a really vague idea of what your startup does, and probably lukewarm enthusiasm. You can change that by simply going in and pitching them. They’ll love it. Nobody does it. Also, you can find out what sort of objections candidates are putting up when your startup is mentioned. Overall, a great use of time.

Offer promotions to recruiters: You know what gets recruiters excited? Cash money! Offer a 25% fee just for the month of June instead of the usual 20%. Or maybe an incentive for a difficult role. Nothing is stopping you from being salesy with them.

Give them free stuff: give them free access to your stuff. Free subscriptions, free access to your content, whatever it is. They will love you and pitch you even better since they now have personal experience with your startup.

Give them real feedback: This is a real pet peeve of mine. If the only thing feedback you have is “pass”, how the hell am I supposed to find a better candidate next time?  So, make an effort here please – a few bullet points will do.

Don’t give lowball offers: This is another massive pet peeve. Nobody wants to work with a cheap motherf*****. We want to close deals here. If you do this, expect recruiters to stop sending you good candidates (or inflate their salaries – see below). Also, expect other recruiters to know about your evil ways. We talk a lot.

Typical Recruiter Shenanigans and how to prevent them

Even if things are rosy, you might find that recruiters will slip into some bad habits. Its their inner car salesman, what can I say! Anyway, here are some things that you can do to prevent these things from happening.

Poaching your own staff: this one is great. A recruiter will poach your talent and then fill the role once your employee is gone. Its like running a bath with the drain unplugged, except that you have to pay them tens of thousands of bucks every single time.

Solution: Focus on retention. If you treat your employees right, no recruiter will be able to touch them.
Cheeky Solution: create a fake LinkedIn profile. Make him a software engineer in your company, from a great school, and leave him a glowing recommendation. Have all the inmails fowarded to you. Here’s a fake profile for inspiration.

Note: I would not necessarily stop working with a recruiter if he does this. If you haven’t given him any business in awhile, its understandable. Don’t hate the player….hate the game.

Inflating the salary of a candidate: the economics of recrutiting incentivize salary inflation. Hey, 20% of 150K is a hell of a lot better than 20% of 100K.

Solution: Ask the candidate directly during the first interview. The candidate won’t know that the recruiter is providing his salary info necesarrily, and people are open enough in the beginning of the process to disclose that info.
Cheeky Solution: create an official looking form that you ask all candidates to fill out. Include “Salary Information” in said form.

“Opportunistically” sending you candidates which you would have to pay them for: you might get an email saying “Hey, I know you aren’t really looking for this role but I’ve got an awesome guy you ought to meet.” Now they own the candidate, and even if you were to hire them down the road you would have to pay.

Solution: telling them “no opportunistic sends” (until they become a trustworthy partner.)
Cheeky Solution: write a clause in the contract mentioning this.

Follow these principles, and you can have a mutually profitable recruiting relationship with minimal frustration.