Venture capital gurus often talk about how difficult startup hiring is, but unless they built a startup back when they were a nobody, I doubt they truly understand how difficult it really is—especially in India, where my startup KleverKid is based. Given how often we take advice from VCs, I wanted to dig deeper to see if I could draw any comparisons in conversion rates between VC deals and startup applications.

Looking at the funnel to success is a good metric to determine how hard something is. Basically, that means you take the “top” of the funnel and put it in the denominator. In a VC’s case, this is the number of potential deals they look at, and for a CEO it’s the number of resumes you read. Then, you look at the “bottom” of the funnel and put it in the numerator. In a VC’s case, that’s the number of companies they actually invest in, and for a CEO it’s how many people they actually hire.

Hiring can be exhausting, overwhelming, and more frustrating than fundraising. Tweet This Quote

A VC named Nic Brisbourne recently published a post about his “deal flow,” which comes to a .25% conversion rate from top of funnel to bottom. In order to succeed with that conversion rate, most VCs would have to source 30–40 leads/week to close 4–5 deals/year.

In my startup’s case, the conversion rate from the number of resumes I look at to the number of hires I’ve made is 1.3% (this should be higher in better educated markets, but India’s graduate quality is comparatively poorer). In order to grow to the average one year team size of 15 teammates, that means a typical startup needs to look at 22 resumes/week to close 15 hires/year in year one.

Conversion rates change according to size of the deal or complexity of the role, and there are always more steps that require time, effort and consideration. Regardless, looking at 22 resumes/week is a mammoth task for a scrappy startup that’s simultaneously trying to build something amazing that customers will pay for.

Spend as much time as possible building a strong recruitment funnel that generates leads through your existing team and network. Tweet This Quote

When I first had the idea for my startup, I desperately needed to bring someone in who would complement my geekiness with some marketing and sales expertise. One of the people in my funnel submitted an amazing resume and displayed strong theoretical knowledge of how to grow a new e-commerce/marketplace website through SEO and content marketing. Upon digging deeper, I found he had copied a well-known marketing guru’s e-book and masqueraded it as his own. I still hired him, convinced he had made an error in judgement in a moment of desperation. I was wrong, and I ended up firing him within three weeks.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand and affect education in India, so every time I meet a bad hire, I feel like the system has failed that person, and I’ve personally failed them as well. At this point, I’ve successfully brought the bottom of our funnel from 1 to 18, and each and every person I work with truly wants to work here (as far as I know). Here are four of my pro tips for hiring in India, and even beyond:

1. Hiring is like dating

Swiping right on a friend of a friend is always easier than some random Joe The Plumber. Spend as much time as possible building a strong recruitment funnel that generates leads through your existing team and network. Incentivize your network to work for you with intangible thank-yous, the same way you would toast your bestie at your wedding for introducing you to your brand spanking new spouse.

You have to go with your intuition about someone, not just their paper credentials. Tweet This Quote

2. Hiring requires a sixth sense

Not the kind that allows you to see dead people. But you have to go with your intuition about someone, not just their paper credentials. I’m a strong believer that someone’s culture and values are immediately evident when you meet them. You can see it in the way they treat the waiter, in the way they respond to a critical question, and in the way they handle uncertainty—especially in a place like India, where taking the short cut or employing Daddy’s connections to get out of a sticky situation have few repercussions. You can just tell if you can trust someone off the bat—and if this is someone you would want to be stuck with in a two hour car ride.

3. Hiring is like Mario Brothers

Just like in video games, there should be levels, and it should get harder and harder to get to Princess Peach. When we started hiring, we would meet someone once and try to decide “yay” or “nay” for the sake of brevity and simplicity. Our gut intuition wasn’t very honed back then, and we would have a ton of unanswered questions about the hire. Often we would err on “yay” because we didn’t want to lose someone who might be good. Try to set up a standard set of questions and assignments any role should be required to complete before you get to the final decision on someone.

Bringing together an amazing group of people that is excited to spend 12 hours/day together is an incredible success. Tweet This Quote

4. Hiring is fucking hard

You will fail. No matter how helpful your network, how strong your intuition, nor how perfect your process is, you will still fail. There is no silver bullet, and there is no way to ensure everything and everyone is aligned. At times, you will hire someone you would love to spend two hours with in a car, but who doesn’t fit the immediate needs of the company. Other times, you will hire someone who everyone hates, but who’s the most productive person in the office. It can be exhausting, overwhelming, and more frustrating than fundraising—especially when you get spam resumes from someone who forgot to bcc everyone, or resumes that start with “Respected Sir/Ma’am.” (P.S. If you’re looking for a job at a startup, do a little research and show you know a bit about who you’re reaching out to! It goes a long way.)

No matter how helpful your network, strong your intuition, nor perfect your process, you will still fail when hiring. Tweet This Quote

All in all, hiring is hard and arduous and riddled with failure, but bringing together an amazing group of people that is excited to spend 10–12 hours per day with one another is an incredible success in and of itself.


A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.

About the author

Shabnam Aggarwal

Shabnam Aggarwal

Shabnam, originally from Silicon Valley, has spent the last 7 years at the forefront of the effort to help kids get a better education in India. Combining her tech obsession with her passion for kids and their learning, she has built products such as MILLEE, helping kids in rural India learn English over mobile phones, she's led companies such as KleverKid, helping kids get the best teachers, tutors, and coaches, and she has become a preschool teacher to kids in rural Maharashtra. Having raised multiple rounds of VC capital for her startup, KleverKid, she now spends her time focused on bringing passion-based learning to kids across India through great teachers. KleverKid's mission is to help every kid discover their passion, enabling them to think outside the box, build a meaningful career, and add value to the country's growth in a disruptive and sustainable way. Shabnam was an Unreasonable Fellow in 2010.

  • Shabnam Aggarwal

    Thanks guys for reposting this! I hope it’s helpful – happy to answer questions!