How most startup CEOs/ product leaders think relationship building works – Isolated dots. Reach out to potential hire once in a while. Don’t follow up. Do the same with people who leave your company.

How the people best in this operate – Think of it as a line.

(Inspired by this post that talks about this in the context of CEO and VC relationships)

How to reach out to potential hires:

Bad: Generic Linkedin DM or Twitter message that the candidate knows has been sent to dozens of other people.

Good: Contextual DM. Makes you feel the CEO really thinks you are a good fit.

Best: Not even hiring. Just getting to know you and building a relationship.

Hard to say No to the 3rd one. Leaves you room to send an actual offer letter in the relationship. Helps you know the candidate’s motivation. You can even create a role for a potential 10X hire.

Now imagine you still sent a DM directly about an opening.

The candidate might not be interested in your opening. Or they might not even be looking out. A good candidate will be honest instead of offer-fishing.

(I personally have not interviewed in 3 years since I joined my current company. My boss does not believe it somehow Smiling face with open mouth and cold sweat)

Potential response to a No:

Absolute worst: Don’t even respond. Surprisingly people still do this. This is unacceptable.

Bad: Just say Ok/Thanks instead of leaving room for a future engagement.

Good: Ask what will change your mind. Ask you to DM if you change your mind.

Best: Know relationships get built over time. Stay in touch. Maybe not now, but somewhere down the line you can get the candidate to say Yes. I have had people follow up every 6 months in case I changed my mind.

I know senior hires being pursued for more than a year.

One person absolutely best at it is Kunal Shah. People talk about how  he has managed to convince so many of his ex colleagues to join Cred. And also how he slides into DMs of good folks on Twitter with a pitch for Cred. He is relentless at this.

Kunal is not an exception. Let’s talk about my friend Mahesh, who has been killing it as a TA. You know about just his memes but he probably has all the leaders in the ecosytem on his phonebook. He nurtures relationships, builds them over time.

Any leader who considers a job switch DMs him for his advice on salary benchmark, insights on other companies, and they trust his advice because he is honest. He will tell you the real story.

See how quickly he helped build out the Unacademy org. Not hard to do when you potentially know everyone, having cultivated these relationships over the years.

His experience in reaching out to people and navigating these relationships is worth its weight in gold.

You can do the same as a CEO/Product Head/ TA head, but you won’t. You will randomly DM people on Linkedin and then cry that hiring is so hard.

People say No to you because you are just a job offer for them. You are not a relationship. Without a relationship what you offer is just a title and a salary. It is easy to understand how it might not be enough in today’s mad scene where any good candidate has 3-4 good offers.

P.S I am not looking out. Seriously.

I just wish the CEOs who DMed me over the last few months and took my number bothered to follow up and build a relationship than treating me like a dot.

Summary: Invest in lines, not dots.

This is not the only startup btw. I know startups that have been amazing with their hiring inspite of much smaller budget. It is a relationship driven industry. Once the funding craze dries out, people will be reminded of this even more.

Do note:

  1. You can’t build a relationship with every potential hire. You don’t need to. Find people you really want to work and then do it with them.

  2. As a candidate you also can’t take coffee chats with everyone who reaches out. Do it with the people you admire and want to work with in the future. My rule of thumb is that I spend as much time on replying to the message as the other person sending the cold DM has put in.

The best take in this was from Mahesh: “chota sa to ecosystem yaar. muskil se 10 companies honge you will want to work with. sab log ek se dusre mein ghumte rahenge, why ghost. Why do short term optimisations when you will eventually end up working with the same people later”

A senior product leader told me that the number for him is more like 2-3 companies. He knows the CEOs there. He has built a relationship over years. If he wants a new challenge, he will just reach out to them and switch. I recommend doing the same.