The People Market, Part 2
Not Great, Not Terrible | Issue 3
Having thoroughly exposed our assumptions and ideas for the First Wave of Hiring in Part 1 of The “People Market”, now we take up from where we left and let you know of the pains we experienced during that process, as well as our opinion about the “People Market”.
THE PAINS OF HIRING
Nobody knew who we were.
From day one we decided we would take care of recruitment ourselves in lieu of a recruitment agency/specialist. Not because we don’t believe in the process, or didn’t want to pay for it. At this early stage, we wanted to get feedback first hand and directly control the propagation channels. As firm believers of the mighty interwebz, we were certain the message would go across loud and clear and by no means we would have any lack of applications, and from those beliefs a beautiful lesson was learned: we aren’t worth shit and nobody cares about us. We were so under the radar for so long that we didn’t have any sort of street cred to attract new colleagues. In hindsight, this is a more or less evident outcome, but at the time we were truly convinced that a couple of online ads would be enough to steamroll a wave of juicy applications. Ah ah. Although we got several applications, it took some months and some effort to actually gain momentum.
We didn’t understand and were plain wrong about a part of the market.
It is no secret that Dalma was founded by engineers of different trades and that we had the hardware part (almost) covered. On the other hand, software is an equally important part of our value proposition, and one for which we never had a specialized technical founder. Not only software was lacking in terms of development (i.e. “actual work”), it also represented a major handicap in understanding the software people market. With that said, we completely underestimated the competitive state of the “non-hardware” people market and how difficult it would be to attract developers. We’re not even talking about suitable people; we couldn’t attract a freaking monkey with a cartload of bananas. We were completely off-target regarding salaries, levels of experience, availability, and the overall dynamics of hiring/exiting in this specific market sector. We vented our frustrations with friends and colleagues from the biz, and painfully came to accept that whatever our assumptions we had, they were dead wrong.
We struggled to keep the pace and quality of the hiring process.
Recruiting is an ongoing and time-consuming process. Our small scale meant we would easily sink all resources in interviews, but from our point of view, we had no other choice. We were looking for pretty much co-founders and if that wasn’t worth our uncompromising attention, what was then? For this reason, almost all of our technical work ground to a halt during last summer. Adding to this, we made it a point to reply to each and every email that we got(**), taking the time to give actual feedback to those we interviewed but rejected (we know it’s a harsh word, but it is what it is). We basically aimed to treat people as we would have liked to be treated, and that took a shitload of time and energy.
(**) For the sake of honesty, there were some unanswered contacts from late August, around the time we were making our new office in Porto and dealing with a collective mental meltdown. But that’s a topic for another time.
Time was passing — so was the plan.
As time passed and we struggled to “close deal” with our future colleagues, so was our roadmap slipping. A slipping roadmap meant things were not going to be ready at the intended time, which in turn precipitated ever-updating plans. With changing plans come different needs. Resource needs. People needs. We started with a hiring plan but had to adapt it several times to compensate for the delays. Compensating meant different profiles and job requirements (adding to the many of the pains identified above). It sucked.
OUR “𝙄𝙉 𝙔𝙊𝙐𝙍 𝙁𝘼𝘾𝙀” OPINION OF THE PEOPLE MARKET
If we could summarize our takeaways and advice into one sentence, it would be something along the lines of if you are applying to a small company at least make an effort.
- Your first form of contact is more important than your CV. Don’t write us a generic email with spent clichés and textbook tropes. We don’t care if it’s a few lines or a whole testament, we will read your every word and we will get our first impression through there. We liked the emails that told us who you are and your reasons -genuine reasons- for applying. You stand a better chance of getting to know us if you tell us “I’m applying because I really don’t know what I want in life, but Dalma sounds cool” than if you say that you wanna work for “a reference company in the robotics market”, which we know we aren’t.
- Speaking of which, can we please ask you to keep your tongue waaaay off our asses? We don’t like suck-ups nor compliments which are obviously fabricated. We do appreciate (very much) all the kind words of incentive for what we are actually doing and trying to achieve. That’s important to us, and we hope to remain worthy of such compliments in the future. What we don’t like so much was getting over-the-top adulation over things we certainly are not, such as a “reference company in the market”, an “innovative and market-disrupting startup”, and shit like that. As much as we’d like to, we are not that company — at least not yet. Granted, that kind of fake compliments is usually in tandem with generic emails, but they still suck. Sorry. I hope you understand we are not being ungrateful, we just don’t want unwarranted merit.
- Still on the topic of first contact (I’m getting Star Trek vibes here), we loved the alternative methods to email, such as when people called us on the phone asking for more info before applying. That’s a nice touch. It means that you want to understand if you really want to be part of us and that you won’t just shit generic emails to every company in the database. We didn’t get many calls, but the ones we got were a͟l͟w͟a͟y͟s͟ followed by an interview, and two of those “calls” are now Dalma colleagues. Another great alternative is LinkedIn, that’s another option that we thoroughly enjoyed and which triggered very nice contacts. But LinkedIn is no exception to the previous two points, so don’t expect us to accept your random connection if you don’t even bother to write an intro about your motives.
- “Palma Cisterns? Yeah, sure… I did apply to your company, didn’t I?”. Just one of the many warm greetings we would get when we calling candidates, in the hopes of setting up an interview. Look, we understand you applied to 100 companies, but that won’t make you any more desirable to a company that is looking for the person, not a person. We’re the first to recognize we are basically unknown to the world, but we do expect you to at least remember applying to Dalma, and to at least check our website. Geez. You know what? Just fucking read the next chapter. I’m pissed now.
- Don’t apply to a startup if you are looking for a job. Just don’t. The first hires’ (and probably the second and third hires’) motivation should not be to fill a vacancy and get a job; it should be the desire, the absolute need, to build something. And that means you will have to spend a lot of time thinking about it — or at least you should. There is no quantifiable measure of how much you will spend on t̵h̵i̵n̵k̵i̵n̵g̵ scratch that, l͟i͟v͟i͟n͟g͟ the company, but that is a must for a horizontal, small group such as Dalma. If you don’t feel the need to live the company, then you probably don’t understand the challenge and are better off with a regular job (and it probably pays better anyway).
- We loved people who asked about business. Even though we don’t yet have business per se (i.e. not selling yet), we feel the best applicants were the ones who worried and asked about leads, customers, strategy, tech status, funding options, etc. That really mates perfectly with our open stance towards these topics, even when talking to strangers. This is also materially important for a small, starting company, as these are the kind of worries we want to share. Even if we were aiming towards a very classical and hierarchical structure, it’s only logical that these first hires would probably be future leaders and middle managers, so the logic stands valid.
- This one is for recruiters, but also related to the first couple of topics: please don’t spam us. We’re not asking you to not contact us, we respect your work and we may yet need your help. We are just asking you to not spam us. Similarly to candidates, if you don’t make an effort to understand if we are your target customer, chances are we won’t be. We feel most of the contacts from recruiters were devoid of any effort; just classical sales yadda yadda and spam emailing. A different story would be if you showed that you understood our pains beyond the need for manpower (or is it “peoplepower” already?). Here’s a funny story: remember what we said about not getting enough SW applications? Well, we got more emails from IT recruiters than applications from IT candidates! That’s how much we suck! We’re still laughing. Ah ah.
There it is. This is how we experienced our First Wave of Hiring. The first wave is now finished and we are truly happy and grateful for all the applications we got. Yes, even the ones we were criticizing just a couple of lines above. We hope you take it with a grain of salt — we are far from perfect either. But we hope that in the future we are worthy of more and better applications. Let us know if you agree with any of the previous points and/or if you shared the same pains during your time. That would be really helpful, thank you.