How to attract great employees to your startup

What we can learn from a restaurant's controversial and demanding job ad

Nick Cloete, CEO of Kounta

Nick Cloete, CEO of Kounta

When a cafe posted a controversial and overly demanding online job ad for a line cook, it went viral because of its 44-point list of employee requirements.

With desirable qualities like “You do it right... even if it’s a pain in the ass and tedious,” the ad said as much about the employer as it did about what they were looking for.

The business in question — a cafe in the US called FARMbloomington — had been burned by bad staff before. But with the list of harsh demands including turning up to work sick to prove your ill health, it’d be surprising if they attracted anything but the mediocre.

There’s no doubt the quest for good talent is tough, no matter what the industry. Startups and small business are almost totally reliant on dedicated staff to build the business from the ground up. A hiring mistake can mean a major setback.

For example, the company I head relies on superstar staff working tirelessly, but we don’t find them by blasting a list of harsh and unrealistic demands. As FARMbloomington shows, it’s a fast track to bad hires. Instead we ask our employees to recommend staff. It’s also important if you’re in the software industry, for example, to be building a great product and a good team in order to attract A-graders.

Netflix is a great example of a company that hires its ideal employees. Its culture is one that demands “excellence” in employees. While difficult to immediately identify this, Netflix uses a probationary period during which all employees must prove themselves. If new employees don’t go above and beyond to demonstrate “excellence”, they’re let go — with a generous package.

Although this sounds harsh, Netflix offers more than just a demanding probationary period to attract its workers from the get-go; it offers autonomy. Once employees have proven themselves, they work flexible hours, take limitless sick- or vacation leave, are well paid, and receive great benefits.

What this approach to staff means is that Netflix is now a global giant. Its hiring risks paid off and its massive growth is directly attributed to a great team culture and innovative HR policy.

For my company, it’s meant growth as a hospitality platform for point of sale in cafes, restaurants and bars against Silicon Valley giants like Square, or legacy platforms like Star Mircronics.

There are a few things we’ve learnt along the way that mean we are never driven to the frustration of listing the 44 points we need in a team member.

1. Build a great brand and talent will emerge

Remember when businesses used to hire with a sign on the shop front door? It’s a fast way to attract new staff, but you’ll risk hiring someone with no knowledge of your brand or product. And you’ll be sorting through mediocre applications for days.

We pride ourselves on building a great product and an A-grade team that want to act in the best interests of the business and brand. By focussing first on our product and having a dedicated team that puts the product first, we naturally attract talent.

Creating a great product with a strong team is our version of the old sign on the door.

2. Don’t go for low-hanging fruit

Too often we’ve seen startups settle for average staff because they just need the numbers. We are more scientific about how we fill roles: we focus on hiring people who are talented, the right cultural fit, and, most importantly, love our product.

How do we do this? By targeting people through existing employee networks, who already know about our brand and product. If you’ve done your job as an employer and created an excellent work environment, your current employees are the last people who’ll want to mess that up. They know what the score is, they know what you expect, and they know what the rewards are. They’re not going to recommend someone who would jeopardise this.

3. Hire only the best and do your best to keep them

First, make sure you’re bringing on the right talent for the role by using the first two steps. And then you need to keep them.

The thing about great employees is that they’re generally trustworthy and reliable. Keeping great staff is often as simple as remaining true to the culture that initially attracted them to your business.

Be respectful, kind and straightforward about expectations. When you praise them, be specific. Don’t just say “thanks” for a job well done; let them know exactly what you’re thanking them for. And tell them without being prompted what their value is to you and the business.

Also, give them rewards when they perform well. Money is great motivation.

Nick Cloete is CEO of Kounta, an Australian cloud-based point of sale software designed for retail settings.

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