How Startups Can Find and Hire the Right People to Expand Their Business

If your startup is growing, you may have a hard time finding and hiring new people. Learn how Peak Power expanded their business with the right talent.

Laura Machan, Partner, Recruitment Solutions
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How startups can find and hire the right people

There is a moment in the evolution of every tech startup when the people who started the company realize they don’t have enough people, or the right people, to allow it to grow and prosper.

Even worse, they don’t know how or where to find those people, and even if they did, they don’t have the time to look around.

For Peak Power Inc., that moment came in in early 2020 when founder and CEO Derek Lim Soo realized his company was outgrowing its workforce.

“We were in a really great position. We were working with a tight core of talented, dedicated people and progress was good. As customers rolled in and the product developed, the work began piling up. As great as our team was and is, there's only so many hours in the day. We had to expand."

A rapidly growing start-up that provides software solutions to forecast electricity needs and optimize energy storage systems, Peak Power had enjoyed remarkable success in its first few years of operation. Notwithstanding the disruption created by the pandemic, Peak Power was able to land two significant rounds of funding in early 2021 while also growing its customer base.

Imran Noorani, Peak Power’s chief strategy officer, said it was exciting when their labour of love – a company created and supported by “self-funded visionaries”– had become a more complex organization with all kinds of human resources needs. It was also more than a little scary.

“All start-ups start the same way: a bunch of financially successful dreamers who are willing to take a salary cut, or work for free, who have the resources to self-fund themselves to be involved in something they hope will pay off in the end,” said Noorani. “And then, as customers start to validate what you’re doing, and investors get on board, you suddenly have money to spend. And after you get over some of the little things, like getting that espresso machine you really want, you start to realize you need to start looking for more people who will be a good fit for what you’re doing.”

Unfortunately, there were so many unanswered questions standing between Peak Power and the new crop of talent it needed.

Where should Peak Power look for those people? How much should it be prepared to pay to get top talent? What kind of hiring process should it put in place? What kinds of expectations would new talent have about the work culture at Peak Power, and would the company be able to deliver?

In the early days, Noorani said, start-up founders rely mostly on their own networks, and the networks of some close friends and allies, to bring on additional “visionaries.” At some point, however, the number of people you need, and the specialized skills that you require, becomes too complex for personal networks.

Noorani said he talked to Soo about possible solutions to their recruitment needs. With a new round of financing, it was clear the company needed to more than double in size, from about 30 employees to more than 70. And with more employees, Noorani said they both realized the company was going to need a human resources structure to deal with issues like payroll, benefits, diversity and inclusion and workplace culture.

The first option was to approach this challenge like bigger companies do: hire a head-hunter to go out and find the right people. There was some initial concern, however, that retaining a professional recruitment firm might be too expensive and too intense for a company the size of Peak Power.

Eventually, Noorani said they reached out to LHH Knightsbridge, one of Canada’s most experienced recruiters, to not only help identify talent but also to help Peak Power build a search and hiring structure that it could rely on for many years to come.

What Peak Power quickly realized was that Knightsbridge was able to find the exact right kind of people the company needed for that point in its development: skilled, talented but still very much on the visionary side of the talent equation.

“Early on, we brought on people who were willing to take some of the risk with us and work for free or a discount,” he said. “But we knew at this stage, we couldn’t count on people doing that anymore. That’s where a head-hunter really pays off; they can still find these crazy visionaries, people who are willing to leave a job in a branded company to be part of something exciting.”

Laura Machan, a senior partner in LHH Knightsbridge’s recruitment practice, said she is often consulted by companies that are either smaller, or in an early stage of development, and have not yet established an internal human resource infrastructure. These companies know they need to become better at recruitment, hiring, and onboarding but they don’t know how to improve, and they don’t know where to find the people who do.

“In these scenarios, the employer is already going at full speed to run the company and they often haven’t had the time or opportunity to hire people internally to handle hiring and recruitment,” said Machan. “There are online options, but few people that go that route really take the time to look at what the online recruiters don’t do for you. Yes, you might be able to get a flood of resumés but you still won’t know how to vet them and pick the real gems out. Online candidate sourcing is still driving blind in the search for talent.”

Machan said it was a huge help that Peak Power had already defined a unique culture. That made the process of searching for new talent much easier. Still, like a lot of tech companies, the pace of growth works against best efforts to build nuanced processes around sourcing and hiring talent.

In these instances, Machan said her approach is to reassure the client that sourcing and hiring talent is not a transactional undertaking; rather, it’s a partnership to put in place the systems and processes that ultimately help build internal capacity.

“With Peak Power, we signed on to help build a long-term talent sourcing strategy,” she said. “We wanted to help them meet their current needs but always with an eye on long-term needs as well.”

The results of the Peak Power partnership with LHH Knightsbridge have been nothing short of remarkable, Noorani said. The company has been able to sustain its steep growth trajectory and add dozens of new and exciting employees who are perfectly aligned with the Peak Power vision.

In particular, LHH Knightsbridge was able to help Peak Power fill key functions at the VP and director level of the company, leaders who could focus on making sure the company was functioning properly, allowing the people who develop and sell products to thrive, he said.

In addition, by retaining a recruitment company, Peak Power has been able to establish itself as a leader in minority and gender diversity. “Right now, 60 percent of our company identifies as a visible minority, and 40 percent is female,” Noorani said. “We have been able to achieve a diversity record that would be the envy of many companies in the tech space.”

Noorani said the best part of the partnership with LHH Knightsbridge has been the opportunity to learn, not just about HR processes but also about the power of human capital.

“In my role, of course, I’m always thinking about investor needs, how to manage sales. But the people side of the equation is so important. LHH Knightsbridge has helped us see that.”

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