Hiring and Keeping Top Talent on a Startup Budget

Joe Procopio
7 min readMay 13, 2019

I’m not breaking any news by telling you that finding good people is the number one differentiator between success and failure in startup. Any repeat entrepreneur would tell you that. Any investor would tell you that. Your mom would tell you that. But like most startup advice, everyone shouts “team! team! team!” and no one brings up caveats like “budget! market! poachers!”

In other words, to succeed in startup, you not only have to land the best talent, but you have to land and keep the best talent at the most value. Here’s how you do that, with four secrets no one else might tell you.

Define “Best”

The definition gets misconstrued all the time. “Best” doesn’t mean the smartest or the most experienced. It can mean those things, but they’re not even in the top three. Here’s that:

  1. They’re in love with our problem and our solution. The best person for the job is the one who is the most fanatical about the problem, can’t stop thinking about it, would do it as a hobby if it wasn’t their job. They also believe in our solution, totally, without any empirical evidence to prove it’s the right solution.
  2. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to make our solution happen. They’ll stay up nights and work weekends not because the problem isn’t solved, but because it can be solved.
  3. They make everyone around them better. They’re not in it for the fame or the glory, sometimes not even for the money. They’re here to make something bigger than themselves.

My first hire at Automated Insights came down to two candidates. One had 20 years of highly-celebrated experience, the other did some minor data-wrangling during the day and was a waiter at night. The former often seemed confused as to why we were trying to disrupt our chosen industry. The latter emailed me every couple of days after the interview with new suggestions to solve our problem.

I hired the latter.

Now that we know who we’re after, we have to find them, and we have to get them cheap.

Value Beats Everything

Automated Insights started as a sports data company and I learned quickly that in sports, the teams that…

Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com