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From Seed to IPO: The Definitive Guide to Startup Recruiting in 2024

Lushi Zeng

Engaging the right talent is central to the startup’s journey, from seed to IPO.

Startup hiring demands a keen understanding of the distinctive challenges faced by emerging companies, from limited resources to the need for rapid growth and scalability. At the same time, recruiting for startups offers the chance to engage with talent eager to make their mark in an environment ripe with potential.

In this comprehensive guide to startup recruiting in 2024, we draw on our 15+ years of experience in the industry and explore key elements that underpin successful talent acquisition for rapidly growing organizations. From the deployment of AI technology, to evolving work models, to targeted approaches for each stage of maturity, you’ll gain insights on how to equip your organization to identify, attract, and retain top talent.

The Startup Recruiting Ecosystem in 2024: A Renewed Sense of Optimism

The startup ecosystem and the tech sector are expected to return to growth in 2024 amid rapid technological advancement and shifting market expectations, with strategic hiring as a cornerstone of success.

Buoyed by the Federal Reserve's commitment to multiple interest rate cuts throughout the year, the favorable economic outlook will drive businesses to pursue growth opportunities and invest in innovation. The widespread adoption of generative AI has also sparked a paradigm shift, with businesses exploring ways to harness AI technologies for enhanced productivity and efficiency gains.

The startup environment remains fiercely competitive, with ventures vying for top talent. According to DICE, 60% of tech professionals express intentions to switch employers in 2024, underscoring the challenges faced by hiring managers in attracting and retaining skilled talent. Research emphasizes the uphill battle, with 90% of tech managers citing difficulty finding top talent.

The competitive pursuit of top talent applies across sectors and industries. Startups need to develop hiring strategies in the early stages of growth to attract top-caliber hires and cultivate a lasting legacy. 

90% of tech managers say it's difficult to find top talent.

Building Your Core Team: Strategies for Early-Stage Startups

In the early stages, hiring the right team sets the foundation for success, shaping the company culture and driving vitality. As startups progress through stages of growth, from seed funding through to the IPO or acquisition, strategic hiring becomes increasingly critical in scaling operations, expanding market reach, and fueling sustained growth.

Despite the pressures of hiring quickly, startups must invest time and effort in vetting candidates thoroughly to ensure alignment with the company's vision and values. Early-stage startup recruiting should focus on setting the foundations for successful growth through: 

  • Investing in Candidate Experience: A positive candidate experience can attract top talent and build a strong employer brand.
  • Seeking Cultural Fit: In addition to skills and experience, seek candidates who share your startup's values and have the adaptability to thrive in a fast-paced, evolving environment.

Client Story: Axel 

We partner with many early-stage startups, some of which are hiring their founding engineer, product manager – even their first employee. When we reach out to candidates for startups at this stage, like Axel, we promote the team, product, and company.

Axel is an application for blockchain developers. As we ventured to find the right people for Axel, we focused on providing a superior candidate experience, helping market the brand and building a presence in the space. Axel was methodically positioned at the forefront to candidates in the blockchain sector, even if they didn’t want to be a part of the startup at that time. At every point of contact, Axel was endorsed. Through our work together, we helped Axel make critical early hires, including its Founding Backend Engineer.

Scaling Your Team: Recruiting Strategies for Growth Stage

Scaling a startup's team during rapid growth demands a deep understanding of evolving needs and the implementation of effective strategies to manage the hiring process. Founders must carefully consider their recruiting approach, opting for strategic partnerships that minimize effort while maximizing impact. 

Organizations looking to scale effectively should consider:

  • Strategic Partnerships: Firms like Rocket, specializing in startup hiring, provide expertise, access to talent networks, and scalable solutions that align with the goals and evolving needs of growth-stage startups.
  • Building Their Employer Brand: Highlight your culture, mission, and the impact of the work. Central to this is not just the employee experience, but also the candidate experience. 
  • Scalable Hiring Processes: Develop hiring processes that can scale with your growth. This includes the strategic use of technology where appropriate. For example, Rocket blends proprietary AI with top-tier startup recruiters to help startups engage 5x as many candidates.

Client Story: Mission Lane

Rocket worked with Mission Lane through its growth phase at a time when people were recovering from the pandemic and massively hiring to scale their teams. This was a very competitive time in a candidate-driven market. Mission Lane aimed to double their engineering team but had tight fiscal limits, and given the rate it was growing, they didn't necessarily need startup or FinTech experience.

Mission Lane had capital, wanted to scale fast, and wanted industry professionals who understood finance and credit. Although Mission Lane was a Series A FinTech startup, Rocket ended up sourcing and hiring candidates beyond typical candidate profiles, engaging engineers from big tech and traditional banking. These candidates were skilled in Java (an old banking tech stack), within budget, and less competitive to source than traditional FinTech candidates. Our approach helped Mission Lane build reliable partnerships and double its engineering team.

Acquisition or IPO: Advanced Hiring Strategies

As startups progress towards acquisition or IPO, their hiring needs undergo a significant evolution. In the early stages, startups may struggle to hire beyond the founding team due to limited resources and uncertainties surrounding the business. According to the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey, certain competencies and resources of early-stage hires can increase the likelihood of retention and growth.  

Building Executive Teams and Filling Strategic Roles

As startups prepare for acquisition or IPO, the focus shifts towards building out executive teams and filling key strategic roles essential for scaling and sustaining growth. Partnering with Rocket becomes crucial during this transformative phase, as we specialize in talent matching, speed and efficiency, scaling, market positioning, and strategic advisory. Startups can secure top-tier talent who can drive exponential impact. 

Client Story: Hippo

Rocket collaborated with Hippo over a multi-year partnership, from its Series B in 2018 through to IPO in 2021, adjusting strategies and efforts at each stage based on the company's needs. We began by hiring backend generalists at scale before segmenting into various roles, including Data Scientists, DevOps, and ML Engineers. As the company grew and raised $345M over multiple funding rounds, more verticals opened to support the product cycles and help drive successful sustainable growth. We ultimately helped Hippo hire 28 engineers over the course of the partnership.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging (DEIB) in Startup Hiring

Create an illustration featuring a series of diverse hands raised up, each holding a classic lightbulb. The hands should be of various skin tones, symbolizing diversity and inclusivity. Each lightbulb should be simple, in a doodle style, glowing with a warm light. The background should be a solid, soft blue, to make the hands and lightbulbs stand out. Maintain the simplicity of the original design with clear lines and flat colors.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) are foundational pillars that significantly impact a company's trajectory from its inception to long-term sustainability. Research from McKinsey underscores the strategic advantage of prioritizing DEIB, with companies in the top quartile for diversity showing a 36% higher likelihood of outperforming industry medians financially. Furthermore, the expectation for defined DEIB initiatives among employees is steadily increasing, with nearly 80% anticipating meaningful change in the workplace.

Companies that build in diversity show a 36% higher likelihood of financially outperforming industry medians

DEIB is a key component at every stage of startup growth. Following one of our Series A startups' early hypergrowth, they began to receive negative feedback from diversity candidates who withdrew from the interview process due to a lack of female engineers on the team. Their team recognized this and made a change to source diverse candidates until they achieved a healthy balance. By infusing DEIB into its startup recruiting processes, our client was able to open its process and find great candidates they may have otherwise missed out on.

Building a diverse and inclusive team requires deliberate efforts across several fronts. Inclusion involves proactive actions such as fair employee policies, transparent onboarding experiences, and fostering an environment where all voices are valued. Belonging, on the other hand, is the outcome of these efforts, where employees feel respected and connected to their work and organization.

Navigating Work Models: Remote vs. Hybrid vs. Onsite

Adapting to workplace needs, scaling operations, attracting top talent, and fostering innovation requires flexibility and openness to change. That change comes in the way a startup structures its workforce and work model.

Factors influencing the choice of work model include company culture, collaboration needs, and the stage of growth. Startups with a culture of innovation and flexibility may gravitate towards remote or hybrid models, while those prioritizing in-person collaboration and culture-building may opt for onsite work. As startups grow, they may reassess their needs and capabilities, considering factors like team size, market dynamics, and resource availability.

Remote Work

Remote work has become increasingly prevalent in the startup community, driven by advancements in technology and the changing expectations of the modern workforce, particularly post-pandemic. Startups often embrace remote work as a means to access a broader talent pool, allowing them to recruit individuals with specialized skills and diverse backgrounds from anywhere in the world. This global talent acquisition strategy can be particularly advantageous.

94% of employers report an increase in productivity due to remote work

Hybrid Models

Hybrid work models offer the flexibility to blend remote and onsite work arrangements, catering to the diverse preferences and needs of their workforce. Hybrid models enable startups to cultivate a cohesive work environment characterized by shared values and traditions paired with belonging and camaraderie to enhance employee engagement, morale, and loyalty, driving overall organizational performance.

Hybrid employees have had the highest rate of engagement

Onsite Work

While remote and hybrid work arrangements have gained popularity in recent years, onsite work remains relevant for many startups. For example, Rocket’s client Hebbia was building its AI product from scratch and valued the collaboration, culture-building, and spontaneous creativity that on-site work offers. Given its needs and vision, Hebbia made a strategic choice to build an on-site team to drive its growth. 

Startups with onsite employees grow 3.5x faster

Assessing Needs and Capabilities

Startups need to remain adaptable and open to evolving work models as they grow. They must assess their needs and capabilities and consider factors like team dynamics, collaboration preferences, and organizational goals. This involves conducting a comprehensive analysis of the company's culture, market positioning, growth trajectory, and resource availability. 

Rocket supports startups every step of the way, from seed to IPO:

A New Strategic Partnership

Are you ready to take your startup from seed to IPO with a team of top-tier talent by your side? From building out your executive team to filling key strategic roles, it's a journey filled with challenges, but with the right partner—Rocket—success is within reach.

Starting a strategic partnership with Rocket can make all the difference. With Rocket, you're getting a dedicated team of talented startup recruiters equipped with advanced AI technology. Rocket is the #1 talent partner for startups and top-tier Venture Capital firms like a16z, Mayfield, and NEA. We've helped hundreds of startups like yours thrive and grow.

Take the next step in your startup journey by connecting with Rocket for tailored startup recruiting solutions. Whether you're looking to hire your first employee or scale your team for an IPO, we're here to help. Connect with us today to learn more about Rocket’s strategies to building greater success for your startup.

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