SmartRecruiters Blog

50 Startup Founders Share Their Biggest Hiring Challenges

To start a company, your biggest challenge is hiring amazing people. I reached out to my network to find the recruiting challenges of the modern day startup founder. Here are 50 quotes (original to the SmartRecruiters Blog) of startup founders sharing their biggest hiring challenges:

founder Greg Isenberg - startup recruitingFounder& CEO Greg Isenberg, 5by
6 person team working to be your video concierge (acquired by StumbleUpon)

Joining a startup is a rollercoaster and most people know it. Most people want to go to their 9-5 and forget about work when it’s over. Finding startup employees are a rarity and they have to be willing to work long hours and get paid less than market rates.”


CoinlockFounder and CEO Matt Branton, CoinLock
2 person team working to help others securely sell content through Bitcoin

“Hiring is always extraordinarily challenging, time consuming, and mentally draining. In small companies resources are scarce, and the process usually involves removing someone from their core competency in order to focus on getting people in the door. Opportunity cost, and reduced labor efficacy are the key issues.”


tbaumsFounder & CEO Michael Tanenbaum, ConnectCubed
5 person team working to gamify the assessment of relevant skills and personality

“A startup’s biggest hiring challenge is timing. Startups have excitement, they have challenge, and they self-select for people who want those things. Timing is hard – for example – if you haven’t found product / market fit, you can have the best marketing team in the world, but they won’t be able to help when you retool and make changes. But if you launch without a clear plan to get attention, you’ll be missing an opportunity to make a splash. Same goes for any other position. You need to hire just before you need the person, not before, not after.”


startup recruitingFounder & CEO Christine Bird, Cream.HR
10 person team working on top-of-the-funnel candidate assessment tool

“Affordability of quality staff is always an issue for a startup. When money is tight and equity feels like a chip we are reluctant to barter with, it’s hard to trust high potential at low cost. Luckily, at Cream.HR, we eat our own dog food and can determine potential in each new employee, entry level or not.”


daniel haFounder & CEO Daniel Ha, Disqus
43 person team working to power better communication in online communities

“In the early, scrappy days of a startup when you have very limited time/resources, you need to strike a great balance between hiring someone for position-need versus hiring someone that’s great regardless of position. If you’re stuck with the position in mind, you may be building a team for near-term need rather than superstar people. But if you’re not practical about growing, you may never get anything done and it’ll never really matter.

I analogize that with an NFL team going into draft day. They can spend their high draft pick (a limited resource) on an good, but risky, player to fill a much-needed quarterback position. Or they can be prudent and draft an extremely good offensive tackle — not a desperate need, but certainly a rarity if you’re going to build a powerful team.”


Adam-150x150Founder & President Adam Weinger, Double The Donation
3 person team working to increase fundraising via corporate matching

Nonprofits are the traditional ‘do what you love, do what you are passionate about’ kind of organization. All startups, no matter the mission, should embrace this mindset. As a nonprofit startup, your hiring goals should be: people with passion, people who are efficient, people who have the ability to work outside the box, people who are willing to take a 30% salary cut to work for you vs. Wall Street.”


Lucas Olmedo - startup recruitingFounder Lucas Olmedo, fligoo
10 person team working on a Gift Recommendation Engine

“Our biggest challenge is to find a person that has or can develop the same line of thinking than the rest of the team. We have a very particular culture that is a combination of being laid back and having very high standards for working. We need to hire very talented people that are willing to take the challenge as the founders do, and think more about the vision of the company than the money.”


steve hoffmanCofounder Steve Hoffman, Founders Space
4 person team who works to bring together the startup world

I always tell my startups not to feel rushed. Don’t hire someone just because you desperately need to fill the position. Take a deep breath and wait until you find the right person, even if it means slowing everything down.”


nathan parcellsFounder and CMO Nathan Parcells, InternMatch
27 person team working to make it easy to hire interns

“Hiring for a startup means finding candidates with the perfect skill and culture fit. You have to say no to even the best applicants if they aren’t going to gel with your team and create an environment conducive to solving the large problems your early stage company will need to tackle on a regular basis.”


jennifer barbeFounder & CEO Jennifer Barbee, Jennifer Barbee Inc.
8 person team working on tourism marketing

“We work remotely, so it’s key to have self-motivated staffers who live and breathe our mission. Our biggest challenge is finding people to integrate into our team’s culture. It hasn’t been easy to find brand evangelists that are as passionate about my company as I am!”


jetset times - startup recruitingFounder & CEO Wendy Hung, JetSet Times
5 person team working to inspire people to travel

“The biggest challenge in hiring a team is recognizing passion. Especially with the team that helps build Jetset Times, it’s not enough to just “love traveling.” Every single person on the team has to be passionate about journalism, creativity, making things work, seeing a long-term vision. Passion also can’t be pinpointed on a resume, it’s only in the presence of relentless work ethics and vibrant speech. It’s best revealed with time, which makes it difficult to recognize in the hiring process.”


Jenny BelotserkovskyFounder & CEO Jenny Belotserkovsky, JFE Network
6 person team working to accelerate entrepreneurship in the Jewish community

“One of the biggest challenges is to find a compatible first hire or even a co-founder that would be willing to work for just equity at first. It’s a catch 22 because most investors want to fund a team but the team will often only join if there is salary involved. Equity is often not enough compared to some of the alternative options to work for more established companies.”


ravi mickelsonFounder & CEO Ravi Mikkelsen, jobFig
5 person team wokring to improve candidate assessment

“One of the biggest challenges with recruiting for a new startup is lack of visibility. By being unknown a startup is forced to go primarily through their limited personal networks which decreases the number of quality candidates and increases the chances for homogeneity.”


katie wagnerFounder & President Katie Wagner, Katie Wagner Social Media
5 person team working to put the journalism in social media

“My biggest hiring challenge is finding employees that grasp the vision for where we’re headed and want to be a part of building something together. As a business owner, you understand that your staff will never care as much as you do, but finding people who are motivated to work hard, be part of a team, and really help create something that didn’t exist before – that’s the key to success in the early days.”


Derek SkaletskyFounder Derek Skaletsky,
2 person team working on digest emails based on user engagement

“For early-stage, pre-Series A, technology startups (in SF) the challenge is that you are, in many ways, in an ‘in-between’ stage. You don’t have the cash to offer anywhere close to the financial package that the Googles, FBs, Pinterests, Twitters of the world can offer, but you also can’t offer the same equity package that someone could get if they try to start their own app/business. Many engineers are looking at these options – make a ton of money with the big boys or start something on my own. So, finding the right ‘sell’ to people in phase is my biggest challenge right now.”


Jonathan TarudFounder & CEO Jonathan Tarud, Koombea
100 person team working to build powerful technology & beautiful user experiences

“When hiring someone in the technology field, it’s important to look for passion above anything else. It sounds cliche, but let me explain why. People who are passionate can be trained in everything even if they don’t have the “experience.” They are the most driven worker that you can have in the workplace. He or she can accomplish everything they are told to do and will go beyond the typical job requirements.


jon morrisFounder & Partner Jon Morris Inspyir LLC Cyber & Physical
12 person team consulting in management, technical and operational consulting services

“Our biggest challenge relative to recruiting and hiring has been our ability to compete on the benefits packages offered by larger companies. We have addressed this challenge by focusing more upfront investment on a tier-1 401K plan, and a premium healthcare plan. While we had intended to implement these benefits within the first year of operations (we started in ate 2013) we have been pleased with the results of an early investment in these areas.”


raadFounder and CEO Raad Mobrem, Lettuce 19 person team working on inventory management tool

“It’s important for us to find people who are both exceptional at what they do and fit well into our company culture. One way we do this is by asking potential candidates what kind of superpower they would have if they could have any. To me, the reaction is more important than the response. If the candidate seems to be having fun answering the question and takes it in stride, it shows they would make a good fit for the laid-back yet driven culture we encourage at Lettuce.”


Saumil MehtaFounder & CEO Saumil Mehta, LocBox
36 person team working a marketing platform for local businesses

“A growing startup’s biggest hiring challenge is its ability to build, refine and maintain a great process in every area. It also includes getting the small stuff right – responding to recruiters within 24 hours, having a good ATS, keeping the interview room neat and the whiteboards clean. It all matters.”


sam rosenFounder and CEO Sam Rosen, MakeSpace
5 person team working on an on-demand storage solution

“Our biggest hiring challenge is finding high quality web and mobile developers in New York City. There is tremendous competition for full stack engineers and iOS developers and we are seeing mid-tier talent commanding premium salaries.”


Luke MarchieFounder & Partner Luke Marchie, Majux Marketing
7 person team working as a full service online marketing agency

“Our biggest hiring challenge, as a startup, is finding the right kind of individual who is willing to grow with our company, understanding we are in the process of developing with a strong foundation. Finding someone who is comfortable with the twists and turns and being able to go with the flow. Someone who is a team member yet is able to contribute their creative ideas.”


lumen sivitzFounder & CEO Lumen Sivitz, Mighty Spring
5 person team working to help talent find startup opportunities

“The biggest hiring challenge for startups is communication. Startups change rapidly as they grow, so helping prospective candidates understand how they fit in the growth equation is essential. Three things that must be communicated clearly are the details about company’s current position, the importance the hire has in the startup’s overall mission, and where the hire should expect to be as the company continues to grow.”


Iraj Islam newscredFounder and Chief Architect Asif Rahman, NewsCred
120 person team working to be the best content marketing platform

“In the early days, it was a challenge to find great quality people – the right skill set, a great cultural fit – without spending 100% of my time on recruiting, interviewing and hiring. The ‘intangible’ characteristics of a good hire can sometimes be hard to pinpoint. Now, we’re tackling that by hiring in-house recruiters and having more of our team involved in the hiring process. We want our employees to learn what great talent looks like and to have a hand in building our culture.”


Jeffrey FerminFounder Jeffrey Fermin, OfficeVibe
15 person team working to improve employee engagement through teamwork

“It’s a difficult challenge to find someone that is both talented and a cultural fit. You can hire the most talented developer but if they don’t fit in with your culture, then it won’t work out in the long run. Knowing that, we always put culture ahead of someone’s CV.


jason websterFounder Jason Webster, Ongig
7 person team working on social job descriptions

The biggest challenge is time. As a small company, you don’t have the resources of a big company. Thus, you’ve got to commit a specific amount of time each day to driving the hiring process forward. New priorities come up every day, so you have to stay committed to the time you allot to hiring.”


Don GlacyFounder & Principal Don Glacy, Omnific
9 person team working as a full-service advertising and marketing agency

“We hire attitude and train for everything else. We have built the company on superior service that requires a great culture. Our biggest challenge is maintaining our culture as we grow and hire new personalities at an increasingly faster pace.”


max-micheal propertybaseFounder & CEO Max Michael Mayer, Propertybase
32 person team working to make the best Customer Relations Management (CRM) solution for real estate professionals

The biggest challenge is providing a comparable benefits package in a marketplace that is saturated with big budget benefits like; catered lunches, private ferry terminals, paid transit, and full coverage health insurance. Culture sets us apart. Everyone has a say and when 30 fiercely creative and intelligent Propertybasers get together to solve a complex problem the results are inspiring. Everyone counts, everyone is heard, that’s our culture from our juniors to our CEO.”


duncan loganFounder & CEO Duncan Logan, RocketSpace
27 person team working on a technology based accelerator

“Early on it is tough to pick winners out of all the startups we see at RocketSpace. But the single consistent behavior of the winners we see is the effort they put into and their ability to attract and hire great people. Often start ups complain that they cannot afford tech talent or compete with Salesforce, Google or Apple on price. But in every large company there are people desperate to get out and join an exciting start up, it just takes effort to find them.”


guy hirschFounder & CEO Guy Hirsch, Saygent
4 person team working on a smart voice survey system

“What you are really looking for up to the tenth employee is a force multiplier; you’re not looking for someone to do a job, you’re essentially looking for someone to do magic.”


Guillaume DecugisCo-Founder & CEO Guillaume Decugis,
21 person company working to build audiences throug publishing by curation

“People who talk like books will tell you to ‘only recruit the best.’ But for most young entrepreneurs, this is a huge challenge: why would A-players jump ship to work with a nobody? For startups, recruiting is a marketing job: you have to invest in communicating your story and developing a brand as a project worth to join.”


josh kFounder & CEO Josh Krakauer, Sculpt
16 person team working as a social media marketing agency

“One of our core values is “awesome.” We need awesome people, because awesome people spark big ideas and make work feel less like work. But as far as we know there’s no pre-qualifying metric for awesome. So it’s completely relative, and hard to predict. We don’t know until the on-site interview if someone lives up to the name.”


adam hackerFounder & CEO Adam Hacker, Shoto Group
4 person team working to take companies from From Vision To Vantage

“First, we hire for attitude. One thing we have not been able to figure out is how to train attitude. Second, we hire for experience, but not the ‘working’ kind. We look for candidates with an adventurous past and an overwhelming excitement for life. When you consider someone who has traveled around the world, they bring along the excitement for living that best fits our group.”


glenn foxFounder & CEO Glenn Fox, SL8Z
2 person team working to make crowdsourced recruiting

“One of the biggest challenges a startup has when it comes to hiring is realizing that the time to start recruiting is RIGHT NOW – – no matter how early stage you might be. For example, I advertise for positions before I am ready to hire, so I am not starting from scratch when the time does come to make a hire. This strategy really works as I now have a good slate of candidates for not only the 2 positions I will need shortly, but also a number of people simply applied to my general posting.”


Jerome_close-up_biggerFounder & CEO Jerome Ternynck, SmartRecruiters
55 person team working to make hiring easy

“Invest in building your talent pool, it pays off.

You can’t expect to just bump into that perfect candidate. Recruiting is like marketing. You need to maintain a large volume of high quality people interested in working with your company. To recruit the SmartRecruiters team, I built a strong pipeline, turned quality leads into opportunities, and closed top talent.”


baochiFounder & CEO Baochi Ngyun, Social Canny
2 person team working to better B2B social media marketing

“Finding A-player employees takes time and patience. I’ve made mistakes because I hired too quickly and below my standards. But everytime I’ve kept interviewing (seemingly forever), I’ve hired great people that I will recruit/refer for the rest of my career.”


Alyse Mason BrillFounder Alyse Mason Brill, SweatGuru
13 person team working on a marketplace for fitness classes and experiences

“We’re moving so quickly that it can be difficult to keep patient and hold out for the right candidate—we want someone to start yesterday, and that immediate need sometimes pushes us to make rash decisions.

A huge hiring challenge we face is that because we’re so small, anyone we bring on really needs to buy into the vision and gel with the rest of the SweatGuru team. That kind of cultural fit can be hard to assess in interviews, and we’re constantly trying new tactics to assess candidates and make sure it’s the right decision for both us and the potential hire.”


Peter KazanjyFounder Peter Kazanjy, TalentBin
15 person team working to make a talent search engine for the entire web

“Honestly, I think the biggest challenge that startups have is prioritizing the real hard work of hiring. The reality is that hiring is a job. At the end of the day, setting aside the requisite time to make good hires is the biggest challenge, and the one you will have to tackle head on to build a great team.”


Micheal TalveFounder and Managing Director Michael Talve, The Expert Institute
9 person team working to discover a better way to connect anyone to experts

“We pride ourselves on being extremely dedicated and committed to our work.
We seek the same quality in all of our hires. Our biggest hiring challenge
is finding applicants who are serious about the job and exhibit a driven
yet pleasant personality.”


pierre traackrFounder & CEO Pierre-Loïc Assayag, Traackr
20 person team working on influencer marketing platform

1. Making time. There’s nothing harder than taking time away from “work” to recruit.

2. If the answer to “would you like to work with this person?” is ‘no’ by anyone on the interviewing team. That’s it. No level of skills can make up for this.

3. We’ve worked really hard to test as much as possible beforehand (hack days, etc.) and keep a close eye on new hire for their first few weeks/months; in my experience though, nothing replaces recruiting within your network and finding people who worked with some of your team members in a past life.”


Jason WangFounder & CEO Jason Wang, TryCaviar
16 person team working to delivery food from all the best restaurants on demand

“The biggest challenge is finding someone with the right cultural fit. Many candidates look great on paper and do well in interviews, but can they buckle down and accomplish great things with the team?”


kierran farrFounder & CEO Kieran Farr, Vidcaster
16 person team working on a video marketing platform for enterprises

“Standard answer: Attracting quality candidates with limited resources.

More real answer: Understanding ourselves — who is really right for the team? Even if we work with awesome recruiters and find super candidates, it has taken us quite a while to figure out what are the right questions and processes to find the perfect fit. This isn’t something others can solve for us, even with millions of dollars and unlimited resources it’s still an internal challenge that only we can solve.”


adam spectorFounder & CEO Adam Spector, Virtrue
3 person team working on online ID solutions for the 21st century

“Hiring is one of the four most critical things you can do in a startup, and it can easily be the most difficult. Accurately defining what you want is the first challenge. The second challenge is finding the person and making sure they are a fit in five core areas: a) skill, b) drive, c) personality, d) integrity, and e) creativity. The third challenge is finding the patience to not compromise on any of those core aspects.”


raj kadamFounder & CEO Raj Kadam, ViralHeat
20 person team working on a social media marketing suite and intelligence company

“It’s extremely difficult when hiring for a startup due to two main factors: 1) the number of employees in a startup and 2) the number of hats each employee must wear. The nature of a startup means that employees will be working very closely with one another – in proximity and across departments – so the ideal individual must be able to get along and work well with others. Because of the limited amount of bodies and resources for a continuous amount of work (towards growth, of course), the ideal candidate must be able to multi-task and prioritize with little supervision and sans micromanagement.”


micah singerFounder Micah Singer, VoIP Logic
22 person team working on global Voice over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) Managed Services

“Our biggest challenge finding the right technical skill set to add to our small team and making sure that person who, in most cases, is a remote worker, can be a productive member of our operations. We’ve had little success with the flood of resumes we get from larger sites that provide wide exposure and the dearth of resumes; instead we leverage smaller job sites that cater to more specific skills in techno-job searches. Our best resources has been plying the past colleagues of our existing team.”


matthew stillmanFounder & CEO Matthew Stillman, Vooza
7 person company working to steal info from your phone (i.e. startup video comic strip)

The biggest hiring challenge I’ve faced is sunglasses. See, when I judge a potential hire, I’m not looking at their resumé or experience. I’m like George Bush with Vladimir Putin, I stare into their eyes and judge their soul. And if they’re wearing shades, I am HELPLESS.”


Kelly HadousFounder & President Kelly Hadous, Win The Room
3 person team working on premiere executive training

Find people who CARE. Working in a startup is challenging and if you don’t find the right people – the ones that are ready to put their hearts, souls and guts on the table for the sake of your company – you’re screwed.”


tkolindFounder & CEO Torsten Kolind, YouNoodle
27 person team working to help startup founders through global startup competitions

“Revolutionary innovation doesn’t come from talent alone. Its success is derived from a balanced sum of talent, inspiration, and unprecedented connections of ideas and skills.

To achieve revolutionary innovation, startups need to be looking for a lot more in a potential worker than just talent. As we know from Steve Jobs, it’s people with passion who will change the world for the better.”


mark babbittFounder & CEO Mark Babbitt, YouTern
11 person team working to connect talented young people to great companies

To begin our recruitment efforts, we defined our company culture. We had to deliberately define who we wanted to be – and what type of team members would thrive within our mission-first culture. Not an easy task — but well worth the effort as we live by that same culture today.”
I don’t know how else to say it, the quality of hiring defines the quality of your startup. SmartRecruiters is at the core of scaling the startup community.

David Smooke

David Smooke was the Director of Content Marketing and Social Media at SmartRecruiters and is the Founder of ArtMap Inc & AMI Publications.