Michael Fey leads Island as co-founder and CEO, relying on his extensive experience in cyber security, enterprise software and cloud technology.
A company’s most valuable asset is its people, especially for organizations still in their infancy. A startup’s founding team can be the difference between an industry-changing unicorn and just another failed venture, making early recruitment one of the most critical processes in a company’s first year.
But the war for tech talent has rarely been so brutal. Large technology companies are growing at amazing rates and startup funding is at an all-time high. Great candidates have more choices than ever, and hiring them is harder than ever before.
By taking a unique approach, we achieved a near 100% acceptance rate with almost 100 employees while we were in stealth mode. With the right strategy, founders can find and hire people whose passion aligns with their vision.
Recruiting while in stealth mode
Humility is an invaluable trait when you’re hiring a founding team or fostering the company’s culture.
Working in stealth mode for over a year required me and co-founder Dan Amiga to take a highly personalized approach to recruitment. Similar to a football draft, we listed everyone in our network that we thought were absolute rock stars. Some of these people had startup experience, but we didn’t let that limit our search.
We were looking for nothing short of the best — people who we personally knew or who came with referrals from trusted parties. Our targets included people who we either couldn’t wait to work with again or who we couldn’t believe we hadn’t worked with already. We knew that a list based on our own network would always outperform individuals found through a blind recruitment process.
We also considered each candidate’s personal journey. Would our company be a good fit for them? Did the timing, lifestyle requirements and the early stage of the organization make sense? Based on this pool, we identified the skills that we felt were critical for making our company a success. Next, we cross-referenced these two lists. This final headcount gave us a good “draft prospect” list with which to start our recruitment process.
In our company’s early stages, we had to find a way to turn interviewees into believers without actually divulging the details of what we were working on until the very last minute, meaning most of the interview process happened without sharing a glimpse or description of the product. Yet we achieved a near 100% acceptance rate.
Instead of relying on a demo to attract recruits, we sold them on the leadership team we were creating, the investors we had already engaged and the opportunity to build a new category of software. We emphasized the goal: to change the industry and make a real impression, not just another version of an existing solution.