Recruiting

5 Ways to Hack Your Network to Hire: Fletcher Richman will transform how you recruit

Your network is your best source of great talent. But you have to know how to find it.
Jul 8th, 2019  |  Techstars interview with Fletcher Richman
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TL;DR 

When it comes to hiring for your startup, a strong network can make a significant difference in finding the right talent. It may not save you time. In fact, according to Fletcher, referral-based hiring may actually take more time. But, in the end, it's a much faster and more streamlined way to get to the right candidate. 

Here's how you can leverage referral-based hiring to find top talent for your startup: 

  • Build strong relationships with your investors, mentors and fellow founders, and regularly communicate with them about your hiring opportunities. 

  • Make time to meet up with people you've been introduced to and spend time discussing their current goals and career situation. 

  • Look for and connect with prospective hires, even if you're not hiring for a specific position -- yet. 

  • Keep your funnel as wide as possible, and bring lots of people into the top of your funnel, to maximize your chances of finding and hiring top talent. 

  • Create professional job postings to accompany your requests for talent referrals.


“It's not about what you know; it's about who you know.” This turn of phrase has been passed around for decades as the secret to business and career success. But does it really hold true? 

According to Fletcher Richman, the founder and CEO of Halp, “who you know” may not be the answer to most business-related issues, but it is the key to successful hiring. 

“Hiring great people is basically the only thing that matters if you want to build a good company,” says Fletcher. “Obviously, there are lots of other things you have to get done, but if you don't hire great people, it doesn't really matter what else you do.” 

“Hiring great people is basically the only thing that matters if you want to build a good company,” says Fletcher. “Obviously, there are lots of other things you have to get done, but if you don't hire great people, it doesn't really matter what else you do.” 

“So I consider that a first-order problem that startups need to solve. If founders can figure out how to hire great people, those great people should be able to solve all the rest of the problems the company has,” he continues. “For us, referral-based hiring has been the most successful route to finding and hiring great people, by far.” 

The Keys to Referral-Based Hiring

As with any new aspect of running a business, successfully leveraging your network to hire top talent has a bit of a learning curve. Beyond stepping outside your comfort zone, it requires you to change your mindset and create new habits for yourself and your team. 

But, done right, this approach can yield some incredible results. The key, Fletcher explains, is three-fold:

“We did a lot of different things to get some great referrals from our network. But if I had to boil our success down to three things, I would say building our community, saying yes to random coffees and constantly recruiting were the big game-changers.” 

“We did a lot of different things to get some great referrals from our network. But if I had to boil our success down to three things, I would say building our community, saying yes to random coffees and constantly recruiting were the big game-changers.” 

Building the Community

The first step to getting great referrals is building good relationships with people who know people. This includes investors, mentors, and even other startups. The more, the merrier. 

And once you've established these relationships, it's essential to keep your people in the loop, by communicating frequently. For Fletcher's team, this involves sending out monthly updates to keep its network abreast of company progress and keep communication channels open.

“We send out an update every single month to our 200+ stakeholders--who are passionately excited about our business and what we're building--and we catch them up on all the things we've accomplished in the last month. We make sure to include any hiring "asks" we might have too,” explains Fletcher. “Often, we'll get 5, 10 or even 20 referrals from that monthly update list alone, which is incredible.”

While having a strong network is crucial to referral-based hiring, it's not just about the referrals. Building a strong network also creates a circle of support around you, your team and your business that you can tap into throughout your business’ lifecycle.

“I highly, highly recommend having a regular email that you send out once a month,” says Fletcher. “It creates not only good accountability for you as the founder, but it also builds a community of people that support you.”

“And having that community is vital. That's why anytime I meet someone for coffee, I offer to add them to our monthly update list. And when we find recruits that are seriously interested in our company, we'll send them 5 or 6 historical updates, so they can see the journey we've been on,” he explains. “It's been one of the most impactful things we've done as a company, to date.”

Say “Yes” to Random Coffees

While email threads provide a lot of opportunity for startups to find top talent, they aren't the only way. In fact, one of the best ways founders can connect with prospective hires is face-to-face, via good, old-fashioned lunch and coffee dates. 

“There are times when you need to hire a specific role and you should really push your network to make referrals,” says Fletcher. “But you also have to be opportunistic and meet with the smart people that you know and that your friends have introduced you to. It's worth it to take 30 minutes to an hour out of your day to get coffee or lunch with them and hear about what they want to do next.”

“I've messed this up a couple of times myself,” he continues, “and I really wish that I'd said yes. My honest advice is: if someone reaches out and wants to catch up, make time for it! I know there's a lot of other stuff going on, but there's a good chance that that person is either thinking about leaving their current job or they know somebody who's looking for a new opportunity. So, just always be open to those random encounters.”

Constantly Recruit

Most importantly, founders need to keep in mind that hiring really great people - even through referrals - takes time. It's an ongoing process that requires thought, effort, and persistence. That's why it's important for startups to always be recruiting. 

As Fletcher goes on to explain: “Even if you're not currently hiring for a specific role, if you run your business correctly, your startup will grow and you will eventually need to hire for that position. So, you should always be recruiting. Anyone smart that you’d one day like to work with, no matter what their skill set, should be on your radar now.”

“Consider ‘opportunistic hiring’, as well. A lot of companies don't do that,” says Fletcher. “If they don't have an open job req for a position, they won't hire for it. But oftentimes you find talent when you aren't hiring for it. That's why we're constantly on the lookout for opportunities to talk to smart people who might be interested in a new job. And if we do find someone who's really amazing, we hire them - even if we weren't initially looking to fill that position.” 

Despite the fact that recruiting should be happening all the time, it doesn't have to take up all of your time. After all, there are - literally - hundreds of things that startup founders need to be doing. To successfully recruit, all you really need is a little bit of foresight and some well-placed plugs for your business. 

“Just keep dropping hints,” says Fletcher.

Treat It Like a Sales and Marketing Funnel

Ultimately, since a larger number of referrals increases the chances of a phenomenal hire, it's wise to ensure that your funnel is a big as possible. As Fletcher notes: 

“Referral-based hiring is very similar to a sales and marketing funnel. Let's assume you have 50 people in your network that you can reach out to. Out of those 50 people, you may only have 5 that actually send you a referral. But that's still really great! You just got 5 new prospective recruits! And if you look at the numbers, 10% of your requests were met with a referral.” 

There is the flip side to that, though. If you're trying to pull in a large number of referrals, 10% will only be significant, if you send out a large number of viable requests. That's why Fletcher encourages founders to have a large funnel, with as many people as possible, at the top. 

“It's likely that only a small percentage of your requests will be met with a referral,” he explains. “And of those referrals, only a small percentage will actually be interesting enough to pursue. So the more people you reach out to at the top of your funnel - through email updates, over coffee or at random meet-and-greets - the greater your chances to recruit top talent for your startup.”

Bonus: The Pitfalls

While there are many things a founder can and should do to maximize the effectiveness of referral-based hiring, Fletcher also acknowledges that there are some pitfalls they must work proactively to avoid.

“One of the biggest mistakes that startups make is not having a public job posting,” he says. “They'll reach out to their network and say, ‘We're looking for a designer,’ but then they won't provide any other details on the role, such as level of experience or location preferences.”

“One of the biggest mistakes that startups make is not having a public job posting,” he says. “They'll reach out to their network and say, ‘We're looking for a designer,’ but then they won't provide any other details on the role, such as level of experience or location preferences.”

“Now, obviously, you don't want to give so many details that you disqualify someone--who might've been a really good fit--through your job posting. But you don't want to be super vague either. There's a careful balance,” Fletcher continues. 

“At the same time, you need to make sure your job posting is professional,” he warns. “Don't use Google Docs. If you don't have a designated page on your website that talks about your culture and your team and links to your job openings, then use a platform like AngelList. It's professional, it's free, and they have a good intake system.”


Interview conducted by Hayley Campbell

Techstars interview with Fletcher Richman
Fletcher Richman is the founder and CEO of Halp.com.
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