How to Attract Startup Talent on a Tight Budget

Let’s dive into the topic at hand: how to attract startup talent, stay scrappy, and still succeed.  We’ll cover a few basics to ensure you keep them in mind.  We’ll give you insight into two companies who succeeded using cool, scrappy recruiting methods, and leave you with key takeaways on how to successfully hire amazing employees regardless of budget.

5 Things to Consider Before Building Your Team

All companies compete for talent

Startups, Fortune 500, mid-sized companies, etc. No company in the world has employees magically appear. It doesn’t matter how sexy you are.  What matters is how you plan, execute, and show up for the recruiting experience.

Newer generations behave and think different

We’ve witnessed a huge shift in hiring practices, especially for startups.  It’s old school or new school, not often in the middle.  We see it as market-fit; one either tries to understand their market, or doesn’t.  We see this a lot in recruiting.

Patterns are shifting

The resume is dying. Every year, people creating LinkedIn profiles decrease at the alarming rate of >18%. Job boards are nearly useless. Yet, 5 years ago, these channels were baseline to building teams.  So, what now after you tap out your network?

Unchartered Waters of Innovation

Leadership, entrepreneurs, and many practitioners are getting tired of the rat race so they’re jumping ship from traditional and diving into the unchartered waters of innovation to attract talent. If you’re in this bucket, high five!


Over the last few years, as the demand/supply curve tipped in favor of candidates and employees, just being real and human is a game-changer when building your team.  It’s so simple, but often forgotten. As a bonus, being human doesn’t cost you anything. 

Be Human
Headline ‘stolen like an artist’ from industry colleague, Craig Fisher

Startup Hiring May Be Easier Than You Think

Let’s check out a few scrappy and successful startup recruiting approaches that just worked. An important note is neither of the startups below just hit the “hire” button. The founders and leadership took time to prepare and plan.


Datawire has a few dimensions for attracting talent. They didn’t want to stick with the status quo, so instead, built new programs to attract each employee persona. They started by understanding their users/customers, then moved to who it was they wanted, and built multiple programs based on that intelligence pieced together. It all wrapped up nicely in a full-on attraction program resulting in a 15 day average time-to-hire. I can’t give away all their secrets, but will show you two successful examples. One went viral, and one was specific for a high-demand profile. Instead of viral, they delivered an exclusive message to attract the desired persona.

Recruiting Campaign Goes Viral

When the need for a UI/UX Architect arose, they tested a simple and free thing — that which we know of as a gif. Well, that gif & video combined went viral resulting in:

Time-to-hire: 1 week.
Cost: Interview time.

That was a startup recruiting success if we’ve ever seen one. Simplicity and new ideas delivered results.

Startup Hiring TacticDatawire plays the exclusive game

The Datawire crew switched gears when seeking a specific set of skills. If you want specific, then be specific and targeted. They did just that and created a video FOR the profile they desired to bring on board.

Wouldn’t you respond to that? I would.

The results of the exclusivity-play campaign:

Cost: interview/video creation time.
Time-to-hire: 45 days due to the niche requirements


Conjur’s engineering leadership wanted to cater to each engineering persona they were hiring for, so they created an authentic microsite with a little help from friends at Digital Muse. They then created microsites for each engineering position. They followed the bells-and-whistles up with transparency and open dialogue to connect with people they want and who want them back. It works well so they don’t have to go through the “candidate breakup stage”.

Conjur Engineering Microsite

Next, Conjur disposed of the typical application process (yawn), replacing it with a cool, custom puzzle. Engineers often solve the puzzle even if they aren’t ready to pursue a new role. How about building a relationship and being memorable?! Can’t beat that.

Cost-per hire:  approximately 4/20 of an agency fee.

Engineering Puzzle

The possibilities of building amazing startup teams while staying scrappy and budget conscious are endless. You’ll find 7 more authentic talent attraction/branding ideas here — made with startup brain power. If you have any questions about how these were created, we’re happy to provide insight. Ask us questions here. To round all this out, here are a few takeaways to take, or give away.

Action Items for Success

  1. Before firing off emails and scheduling interviews, we suggest trying to understand the type of person you’re trying to hire. You’ll set yourself up for success by trying to see through a lens other than your own, and seeking to understand who they are and what motivates them. From there, connect the dots to what aligns with your company and get sh*t done.
  2. Simplify everything. Less is more — for all involved.
  3. Build new programs specific to people you want to attract. Don’t research other companies — build YOUR OWN. Differentiation is key.
  4. Use inbound marketing for branding and constant attraction. The yield of being reactionary isn’t quite as high as it used to be. See what Social Pilot can do for you.
  5. Focus 30% on candidate experience and a simple workflow.
  6. Consider new HRTech products. They make life easier and decrease cost in the end. Check our Partners out and we’ll refer you their way.
  7. Consider re-organizing your team into a multi-dimensional structure so you can cover sourcing, branding, experience, marketing, and the process.

That’s it for today. Hope it gives you some ideas to help your company grow faster than ever. We love hearing cool case studies that help startups thrive, so please share any case studies that put us to shame – or align with staying scrappy and succeeding.