This past summer, in the midst of raising funding for our second company, my cofounder Yann and I were immediately faced with a major obstacle: We had to hire a team of six people ASAP, in the midst of the Great Resignation.
We needed to act fast in order to meet our aggressive roadmap goals. We were both insistent on hiring candidates ourselves, and not outsourcing to a recruiting agency. This of course was a time-consuming prospect that would give most CEOs who only sleep 4.5 hours a night heartburn. But in our view, there could be no compromises or miscommunications when it came to finding the pioneering group of people who would help bring our vision to life.
Just to get the ball rolling, we began posting the jobs on sites like Indeed and LinkedIn, and tapped our past connections. We found a project manager through our personal network. But after that first win, things started to look bleak pretty fast. We’d gotten about 100 applications, but none of them was at the right level or a good fit, and we still had five more roles to fill.
We knew that hiring wouldn’t be a simple task, but this was unusually challenging. Workers in general were feeling burned out, and the hiring shortage in tech specifically was severe; even Facebook failed to meet its Q1 hiring goal, and reportedly had 50% of its offers turned down. Meanwhile, fast-growing startups were snapping up talent with huge injections of venture capital cash to back them.
To add a further layer of complexity, counter to most recruiting efforts, we were specifically seeking candidates who didn’t go to top-tier schools or have impressive jobs at high-profile companies. We steadfastly believe that focusing on résumés, Ivy League degrees, and big-name experience eliminates a lot of talented people (especially from underrepresented groups) who simply don’t have the same access to resources.
So we actually don’t ask for résumés and look to hire based on what a candidate created with whatever they had, and what they could create given the opportunity. In our experience, this approach has organically led to increased diversity overall. More women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups were naturally included in our team—in part because gender, ethnicity, and race are so interconnected with factors like geography and socioeconomic status. Now we had to work even harder to find the talent that others were overlooking. But that’s exactly what we did.
Yann came up with the idea to use online forums and communities built around our target coding languages, frameworks, and logic to find talent where they were already engaging (not just where they were seeking jobs). Ideally, they’d already be experts in what we were doing.
We tapped the organizers of a developer conference we’d been to that had had a wide-ranging mix of attendees. They agreed to include our job postings in their next newsletter, and from this source alone, we got 10 well-qualified candidates within a week.
Then we found another online global development framework community and discovered it had a Discord channel with tens of thousands of members from all over the world. We posted our roles in the job openings channel (making an effort not to spam anyone) and were transparent about exactly what we were looking for and how much we’d pay. (In virtual spaces like this, transparency and legitimacy are key.) We also personally messaged a few people whose profiles matched our needs and had honest conversations with them about the work.
It worked. In less than 24 hours, we’d sourced another 10 or so high-quality applicants.
To get a few more candidates in the pipeline, we went to the digital spaces where we knew engineers would be congregating: Hacker News, Reddit, and GitHub. We posted jobs on Hacker News and in the Reddit channels, again dedicated to the exact technology methods we wanted to employ. We sifted through GitHub and identified several more target candidates based solely on the projects they’d done. We personally contacted six possible candidates and secured interviews with three of them.
Within three weeks of these efforts, we’d hired two backend engineers, two frontend engineers, a UX/UI designer, and a graphic designer—all without using a recruiter. Even better, out of a team of 10 people (including two part-timers in HR and communications), we’d organically hired three women, one Latinx, and one Southeast Asian employee. Nearly all came from underrepresented countries in tech: Lithuania, New Zealand, Argentina, Indonesia, and Turkey. They range in age from mid-40s to college graduates.
The most surprising thing about our experience sourcing through these online communities was the high quality of these candidates. Using channels dedicated to specific engineering expertise meant that the candidates we interviewed were already pre-vetted as high-caliber engineers.
Our advice to others facing similar hiring woes: Don’t just fish in the “established” pool. Leverage non-traditional channels where your target talent is organically engaging, whatever and wherever that is for your field. If any channel isn’t working authentically, don’t force it, and don’t wait for it to start working. Move on and find another place to discover people. You might be surprised where it is, and who you end up hiring.
Torben Friehe is the co-founder and CEO of Wingback, and was previously the co-founder and CEO of 1aim.