(ed: This is a response to a pair of recruiting emails)

Originally, I wasn’t going to respond but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for startup founders. If you don’t mind, here’s some unsolicited advice on recruiting:

When I’m looking for a job, I have three big questions in mind:

  • Will I have autonomy to do the best job I can?
  • Can I explore new areas instead of doing the same job over and over again?
  • Will the pay & total compensation be enough so I don’t feel cheated?

The first question, autonomy, is the biggest. Every startup claims that I’ll have “massive impact” etc, etc. All of us know that’s table stakes. My worry is that I’ll show up and be tasked with merely implementing someone else’s vision. We know engineers don’t join startups to implement, they join to grow and be a part of the creation of something amazing. You’d go a long way toward winning over potential recruits if you can convince them that they’ll be Solvers & Finders, not Implementers. Netflix knocks this out of the park - see the Freedom & Responsibility / Context, not Control sections of our culture deck. I understand you’re absolutely strapped for time, so creating a giant culture deck probably isn’t the best use of a Thursday. On the other hand, if recruiting top-quality talent is important, surely a sentence or two shouldn’t be a problem?

Secondly, let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t enjoy pure UI engineering. The last two jobs I’ve taken, I made sure that while I would mainly do UI (what I’m best at) I’d also have the opportunity to grow in other areas (stream processing, distributed systems, leadership). I believe Mark referenced this by mentioning “your experience in developing user-focused, scalable solutions”. More detail would be fantastic and help convince me to look further into your startup.

Finally, compensation. This is a tricky one to discuss as startups can’t compete with the big companies by definition. Naive founders try to pitch equity as compensation but only naive engineers buy that (and yes, that was me once upon a time…). I assume you don’t want to hire naive engineers. You don’t need to be top-of-market (that would be foolish at your stage) but instead just convince me I won’t be ripped off and/or asked to work obscene hours. This would be a good place to hammer home some of the perks from my first two points - there’s more to compensation than cash & options.

One quick note: Terms like ‘market leader’, ‘disrupting’, etc are so overused as to have lost all meaning. Overreliance on buzzwords is a big flag for “this person doesn’t know what’s actually special about them.” You’re building something amazing - don’t obfuscate that with meaningless filler words.

Good luck in your hunt!