Behind every great startup you've ever read or heard about exists a team of passionate, talented, and motivated individuals driving growth. The question most new startup owners ask themselves is, "how do I get the most talented people to help me?"

The fact of the matter is, by cultivating the ideal environment for top talent, you have an opportunity to compete with the best of the best in order to reign in the very best employees out there--the ones that can help you put your startup on the map.

So how do you do it? How can you attract top talent to join your startup in 2016? Yes, there are some obvious ways to reign in the best talent: hefty titles, uber-competitive salaries and awesome collaborations. But there's a lot more to it than that. By thinking outside the box, you can gain the edge over just about any competitor. Here are some ideas on how to best approach attracting top talent.

Note: not every solution mentioned below will be right for your company. Don’t feel like you have to offer or implement everything you read here. The purpose of presenting these ideas and examples is to provide you with a complete picture and get you thinking about what you can realistically and feasibly offer at your company for your employees. As an owner or founder, it’s up to you to decide which solutions work best for you and your team.

Beyond Equity

Every startup hire loves equity. If you are in the early stage of your growth, equity can help you compensate for the stability talent would find at a established company. Venture-backed startups typically offer employee equity out of the 10-20% of the total shares of the business. Some startups stop there, but you shouldn't.

Instead of solely offering financial equity, allow your talent to truly invest in your product or service. The best employee are happy to pitch in with labor, but they really want a hand in strategy. Recruit talent by giving them something big: a new product development, a design reboot or even a management opportunity. In the startup world, turnover is high--top recruits want to make a big impact from the beginning rather than paying dues. Foster this ambition by making simple changes.

  • Let Go of Group Think: Top talent usually has an independent streak. Don't make new hires to drink the company kool-aid, and instead ask them to contribute their unique perspectives.
  • Nurture Independent Projects: Google may have axed its 20% model, but that doesn't mean that you should. Give employees time to nurture their curiosities. Who knows what can come from individual innovation?
  • Down with the Red Tape: The more roadblocks you place in front of talent, the more frustrated they become. Streamline approval processes to allow for greater ease between ideas and their fruition.

Values and Transparency

Like attracts like. If you want talent with integrity, you need to embody your values in every aspect of your business. If you don't, the best hires will sniff out your company's hollow values in an interview, or even at a first glance at your company's blog.

Asana, a productivity startup, does a tremendous job embodying their values in every level of their work. The founders pulled the company name from the yogic notion of "asana," which refers to postures that restore one's sense of wellbeing. Asana's values, which include mindfulness and equanimity, are not just words--they are present in every aspect their community culture. Perks like shared, organic meals prepared by a homechef and on-site yoga are meaningful embodiments of Asana's stated values. The top talent for your company will always resonate with your deepest message, so make sure to let your values shine (we link to ours right on the When I Work Careers page to make sure that they are front and center for anyone interested in coming to work for us).

Some companies take their mission a step further, embracing transparency blogging as a way to share internal workings. Buffer, Moz and Unbounce are great examples of this marketing approach--if you follow their lead, you could reap rewards during recruitment. After Buffer posted employee salaries on their blog, they received more than double the applications than they had the month prior. As their CEO Joel Gascoigne said, "We've never been able to find great people this quickly in the past." When startups embody and demystify their values, it nurtures trust--something you can't put a pricetag on.

Family Benefits

As potential employees consider your company, they will think about whether it's in the best interest of their whole lives not just their work lives. If you want to recruit the best talent, put your money where their hearts are by investing in families.

A survey from the San Francisco-based Paper G found that startups often offer gym memberships, meals and even subsidized transportation before committing to paid parental leave policies. Offering substantial and documented parent benefits can help corral and keep talent in your company. Just ask Mary Ellen Slayter. As the CEO of Reputation Capital, Mary Ellen went above and beyond to give her director of marketing strategy a paid maternity leave. Lee, the director, said about coming back to work, "If my job was just a paycheck, it would have been easy for me to mentally check out or leave altogether. It's my team of committed, caring coworkers that make me excited to have this job every day."

The tech startup Treehouse LLC takes family-friendly to the next level by closing its doors every Thursday evening. On Fridays, employees stay home with their families. As chief executive and founder Ryan Carson told the Washington Post, "It makes recruiting and retention so much easier. It's almost funny. When someone is considering us or Google or Facebook, we say, 'Well, are you going to work a four-day week there?' It's almost like our amazing ace up the sleeve. It's just something nobody can beat." Would you turn down a four-day-a-week job? Probably not!


As Treehouse LLC shows us, the age of the cookie-cutter 9-5 is over. Everyone wants a job that accommodates their needs, strengths and interests. Why not mold your expectations instead of expecting your employees to mold to you? Embracing job personalization as a marketing and management technique will entice (and keep) the best talent around.

  • Personalized Office Space: One study showed that workers who could personalize their office space with plants or pictures were 32 percent more productive. Asana gives its employees $10,000 to create their own workspaces--imagine what your employees could do with that kind of money?
  • Location Independence: Startups like Baremetrics, Zapier, InVision embrace a distributed team, and their employees can work from anywhere. If you're not able to offer full-time remote work, follow FullContact's lead. This startup based in Denver offers mini-remote opportunities instead. Their employees can work wherever they want for one month of the year, and FullContact will help them to get there, too! At When I Work, we also offer this perk as a way to attract and hire the best people from around the country.
  • Flexible Hours: If you want to attract productive talent, value their deliverables rather than their hours on the job. You will increase your retention rate and shift your employee evaluations to powerful, rather than irrelevant metrics.

Taking each of these steps makes your company more appealing from the outside. Now that you're on your way to bringing in the best talent in town, you have to make sure you don't lose them faster than you can say, "You're hired." In a survey by HireArt, 25% of startups reported losing 50% of their non-technical talent within the first six months of work. If you cultivate open dialogue with talents and maintain a posture of flexibility, you can reverse the statistic--at least within your company.