At a startup, building an employer brand is a crucial part of effectively attracting talent. Founders seeking to build an employer brand must ask challenging questions about themselves and the corporate culture they seek to develop. As a founder, what are your values and does your company really embody them? Is your brand as an employer evolving with the company’s own journey?
We are living in an era of unprecedented transparency in terms of people’s ability to find out what it’s like to work at a company. Glassdoor, social media, and increased media coverage of tech startups mean that from day one, founders’ decisions about how to build their company will be seen by any future potential employees.
Marius Istrate knows all about the cultural and people-related challenges that come with scaling a hyper-growth startup. Marius was Chief People Officer at UiPath from 2017-2020, where he helped grow the company from 100 employees on his first day to over 3,000 when he left.
We recently hosted a round table discussion between Marius and Crew Capital portfolio companies to discuss best practices for early-stage founders and their leadership teams to build exceptional employer brands and attract talent in an increasingly competitive labor market.
In this article, we highlight the key takeaways from the session.
A startup’s future employees are a lot like its first customers. A company’s first customers are risk-takers. They choose to work with startups with little or no track record because they believe in the product vision and trust the startup’s ability to deliver on that. Similarly, early employees are risk-takers too. Founders should let the messages and values that got their startup going inspire brand strategy and talent attraction as an employer.
Keep employer values consistent with the company – even when the company changes. Employer branding is often confined to a list of values and principles on a “careers page”. While deciding and articulating values as an employer is crucial in the early stages, startups need to ensure consistency between what people hear and what they experience when working for the company. Review this alignment constantly. Startups evolve, pivot, and change direction; they are like natural organisms. That means employer brand should evolve too. In an early stage, the emphasis might be on a fast pace, disruption, and embracing a demanding work environment. Later, in more mature phases, the emphasis might be on category leadership and societal impact. The importance is ensuring an employer brand tracks changes in culture.
To stand out in a competitive war for talent, be authentic, realistic, and aspirational. Startups should be honest and authentic about what they offer. Startups should not try to position themselves alongside multi-national tech giants. Instead, they should counter position themselves and emphasize the unique qualities they offer. Startups should compete with companies of similar size and try to attract talent from the companies they admire the most. At the same time, there should be a clear articulation of expectations and team values. Founders should put themselves in candidates’ shoes to ensure what their company communicates is what they wanted to transmit.
Take the long view. Months, even years, could pass between when a candidate becomes aware of a company and when they take their first step to working there. Future employees – the kind of diligent people startups want – can look back at a brand’s history to see their evolution as an employer and the values they project. Recruiters should understand social media and if they don’t, they should learn it or ensure alignment with marketing teams. Long time horizons mean it might be worth investing in building a community and an ecosystem. Developer events, hackathons, and gatherings with tech influencers in key cities can allow startups to build relationships with prospective employees. Equally as important as physical gatherings is online content. Creating compelling content targeted at building a user base and community can nurture social media conversations, accelerating an employer’s brand.
Go where your employees are – and take account of the local culture. LinkedIn is dominant in some markets, but it’s not the only platform for reaching employees or even necessarily the best. Technical startups should think as much or more about where their future employees spend most of their time – Reddit, Stack Overflow, Hacker News, GitHub, etc. In some countries, LinkedIn may not be the broadest platform. It garners little attention in Japan, while in India, Naukri is dominant.
Companies live and die by their people and their culture. Taking the time to develop a robust, flexible, and evolving employer brand strategy can ensure startups get the best talent and in turn, have the highest odds of success.