The Art of Hiring: How to Find Hidden Gems for Your Startup

For the better part of two decades, I’ve been knee-deep in the hustle and bustle of the start-up scene. I’ve skippered my own ship, lent a guiding hand to others, and you might be wondering – why haven’t I exchanged the boardroom for the beach? The answer’s simple: it’s the thrill of the game, and a thirst for uncovering and working with those with great potential.

Now, here’s the twist. When it comes to advice on hiring, there are plenty of those ready to add the penny’s worth. It’s often misguided, dished out by those without a horse in the race. You’ve heard it before, the hiring equivalent of “buy low, sell high” — something like “snap up the Oxbridge grad with the flawless CV,” only to realise that if by chance you do find one, they struggle to keep pace with the start-up life’s rapid, unpredictable culture.

Fear not! I’m here to help you sidestep such pitfalls. I can’t promise a magical, one-size-fits-all solution, but what I can offer are broad guidelines. These can be moulded into your unique hiring strategy, giving you a leg up, ensuring that hiring becomes a springboard rather than a stumbling block for your business.
Every piece of advice I’ll offer stems from my personal journey, the victories and the defeats. I’m not in the business of peddling untested strategies or spouting buzzword-filled advice better suited to LinkedIn gurus. It’s all about practical, on-the-ground insights here.

And, in the spirit of fair play, I’ll share tales from my own personal experience as real-world examples often provide the best illustrations.

Many hiring guides disappoint because they lack grounding in reality. But I’ll tell you what is real: the white-knuckle ride of building a start-up team. The sleepless nights, the self-doubt, and yes, the sheer joy of discovering someone who turns out to be a game changer for the business.

1. The ‘Moneyball’ Approach

If you’re unfamiliar with “Moneyball”, do yourself a favour – read the book or watch the film. But enough about movie recommendations, let’s dive into its significance. “Moneyball” paints a vivid picture of how statistical analysis outsmarted collective wisdom in team building, outperforming managers, scouts, and other selection maestros. It’s all about harnessing data and analytics to assemble a team that’s more than just the sum of its parts.

Let’s be frank: as a startup, you probably don’t have the coffers to lure a star-studded line-up (at least at this stage). But if you analyse experiences, skills, and team fit, you can assemble a robust team that will deliver great results, even if some of your recruits have shortcomings in certain areas.

Take a sales team, for instance. As a fledgling startup, attracting top 10% talent is pretty unlikely – logically why would any great sales person take such a risk. But by identifying individuals with complementary skills, you can build a formidable team. I’ve witnessed an office in a new region skyrocket because they had a cracking door-opener. Admittedly, he wasn’t the best at maintaining accounts, often leaving a trail of chaos in his wake. But by integrating him into a team where others could swoop in to tidy up and build lasting relationships, they achieved a recipe for rampant growth.

2. The Importance of All-Rounders

In the early stages of a start-up, you need players who can wear multiple hats – the individual in your team who can bat, bowl, and also make a cracking cup of tea. They can code, strategise, sell, and perhaps even fix the office printer. These adaptable all-rounders offer flexibility, allowing your start-up to pivot effectively in response to ever-changing market conditions. The downside is they may not excel in any particular area, and as the business grows this all-rounder may or may not find a role to develop into but in the early days they are going to be just what you need.

3. The Role of Luck in Hiring

As some Roman once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Casting a wide net by using various recruitment channels and taking calculated risks by giving opportunities to unconventional candidates can tilt the odds in your favour. Make sure you know why you are hiring someone. Perhaps you’re looking for an individual who can lead your product testing team, but you can’t get anyone with the experience you need. Identifying all the attributes that go into making a great tester and team lead might allow you to find an individual who you can take a chance with, often at a reduced cost to someone with a CV full of experience.

4. The Art of Letting Go

Let’s address the elephant in the room – not everyone you hire will be a fit for your team. I have often said that if you are getting 80% of your hires right you are doing well, but you are still going to find yourself letting more people go than anyone would really want to, and if you are one of the leaders you may need to step in and help others out in this area. As a leader you should always delegate hiring to those who are leading a particular team, but if they make a mistake and it needs cleaning up, always offer to do the difficult bit. For the individuals you do let go, please do it quickly (and respectfully and professionally), it is not their fault they didn’t work out and they don’t need to be told they have failed. You made the hire, you are the one that got it wrong. Also I have often found as a manager you can be the last to realise you made a bad hire; chances are no-one in the team will say anything to you but the rest of your team already know!


Just like in the “Moneyball” strategy, the hiring process for your startup should be a meticulous blend of well researched decisions, flexibility, risk-taking, and sometimes, the courage to say goodbye. It’s not always easy, but by adopting these principles, you can increase your chances of assembling a dream team and while it might take literally hundreds of interviews to get to this point, trust me all that effort will be worth it.