You're looking to scale your company and need to hire talent to do it. It's one thing if you've ever worked at Facebook or Google or maybe you hail from Harvard, Stanford or MIT where you elbowed up with brilliant and well-connected people now running or working in hot startups. If either were the case, you've got lots of connections that can help you find the talented engineers you're looking to bring on board.

Mixpanel CEO Suhail Doshi and his cofounder Tim Trefren had no such luck when they launched their mobile and web analytics platform in Silicon Valley in 2009. The duo met at Arizona State University and found themselves struggling to lure engineers to their new and unproven venture.

Through a lot of trial and error they figured it out. Today the 70-person company has landed $12 million in funding, is doubling its revenue every six months and in November plans to hire 15 to 20 new employees--up from a typical four new hires a month in recent history. Here's Doshi's advice on bringing top-notch people in the door.

Expand your personal and business network.

Not only does Doshi have nearly 1,000 connections on LinkedIn, he and Trefren intentionally set out to make more friends in the physical world so they would have access to more well connected people. What didn't work: Hosting pizza and beer events for programmers who would come to listen to respected speakers. "We got hundreds and hundreds of people to come out when we were in Mountain View and we got the guy that invented PHP to speak," he says. "We just got really resourceful and scrappy and we made zero hires. It sucked, and we did it multiple times."

What did work: Incubating in Y Combinator and leveraging the seed accelerator's network and resources to make a few critical hires. For example, Mixpanel found its first engineering hire by asking a YC friend to post to an MIT mailing list. "Our CTO's dad forwarded him the email," Doshi says.

The company also began taking more meetings with people outside of its network, simply telling them about the three to five hires it needed to make. "Over the long-term, people would forward their connections and friends looking for the next big opportunity," he says. "Silicon Valley is a small world where you can meet a lot of smart people really fast."

Ask your network for help long before you need to hire for a position.

When Doshi tried to find engineering talent using his network, the typical response would be "You and everybody else in Silicon Valley." Instead, he'd let his connections know about all the other kinds of slots he was trying to fill, whether it was for a data scientist or someone for customer support or sales. Eventually people would come through with an introduction to someone who would be a good fit, but the key is thinking about what kind of talent you'll need months down the road. "Then you go to everyone in your network and [say], 'I don't expect you to know anyone right now but if you know anyone that does this thing, here's our job description, and here's what we're looking for, please let me know,'" Doshi suggests, adding that six months later, you'll be making that hire.

Lure engineers by giving them a real feel for your team and what your company is trying to accomplish.

Five years ago when companies were looking for engineers they'd often post a URL on Y Combinator's Hacker News pointing to a job page. Mixpanel took a different approach and instead started posting more personalized messages directed at the entire Hacker News community. Instead of using some bland job description, the company communicated what Mixpanel was all about, the direction it was headed, what kind of traction it was getting and what kind of people it was looking for. The company garnered its first several critical engineering hires and two interns this way. Mixpanel directed these personalized messages to universities such as Carnegie Mellon, as well, a strategy that helped the company find its third employee who originally joined the company as an intern.

Reach out on LinkedIn to people you want to hire.

Doshi knew Mixpanel needed to hire a key executive, but the executive search firms the company had been using were going to charge around $80,000 to find the right person. Instead, he started looking around on LinkedIn and in December used the professional network's premium InMail feature to send a brief note to Matt Cooley, who at the time was New Relic's VP of Sales. "I had gotten so fed up of waiting for search firms to create our success that I just decided to hunt after someone like Matt myself," he says.

Be careful about the impression your team makes on a candidate.

A startup's key strength is its ability to offer candidates a creative, personal and unique interview experience, compared with big companies that might be hiring many more people. "It's important to consider every aspect of the interview from them having trouble getting to your office to how you deal with issues that might make them reluctant to accept an offer from you," Doshi says. "We try to get to know people and learn about what motivates them. I think if you want the best people, you have to run the best process too--it goes a long way."

Published on: Oct 28, 2014
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