23rd May, 2018

How to hire like a Shark Tank contestant

As your business grows, you’ll eventually need to make some crucial hiring decisions. 

For past contestants of Shark Tank, hiring the right staff to support their startups means assessing how well prospective employees will integrate – even before considering their skill set.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how well educated or deeply skilled an individual is, if they don’t buy into the business’s vision and philosophy, they won’t provide value.

And making the wrong choice can be a costly mistake, potentially derailing a new business’s chance of success.

READ: Calculating the costs of hiring the wrong person

Cardly: Patrick Gaskin’s developer dilemma

Before Patrick Gaskin (pictured) launched his online greeting card startup, Cardly, he developed his experience at first in family-run newsagencies and later in the eCommerce sector.

The combination of retail expertise and technical know-how led him to identify a gap in the market – a gap foreshadowed by the advent of digital publishing.

“I had seen first-hand the development of eBooks and digital music streaming services and had successfully helped launch both types of businesses in the Australian market,” Gaskin said. “Seeing traditional industries digitised highlighted the fact that the technology could apply to almost any product – even the way we share feelings and emotions with people by way of greeting cards.”

As a tech startup, Cardly requires the work of digital developers to create the platform customers use to customise their greetings and messages.

Initially, Tom Clift (pictured) – the other brain behind Cardly – did all the development work. But as the workload grew, so did the need to put on additional development staff.

“Our business has grown tenfold since we appeared on Shark Tank and with our current levels of investment we expect to grow by another 100–300 percent this year,” Gaskin said.

“That wouldn’t be possible without the two great developers that have joined our team.”

But Gaskin is the first to admit that hiring developers is not a straightforward task.

“Finding great developers is hard,” he said. “And getting them up to speed always takes longer than you’d like. But once you get the momentum, it’s great to have more people helping to make our vision a reality.”

What advice does Gaskin have for other entrepreneurs thinking of hiring their first new staff member?

“Make sure you recruit people that believe in what you’re trying to do and that they’re the right cultural fit. First hires are the most important.”

READ: How to create a positive workplace culture

Strange Grains: Diversity should be baked in

And while cultural fit is key, that doesn’t mean your hires should all be cut from the same cloth, as Strange Grains founder Jenny Holten can attest.

Holten, a retired restaurateur and sufferer of Coeliac Disease, wanted to create a gluten-free bread with the same taste and consistency as the best bakery loaf available.

Having perfected her recipe in her home kitchen, she soon began selling an ever-increasing number of her special loaves both direct-to-public and then to local cafes.

“We’ve been lucky with Strange Grains as we never had to invest much capital in the business,” Holten said. “It started making money from day dot and we’ve continually reinvested our profits into growing our operations.

“We went from my home kitchen to a warehouse with one little oven, then two little ovens, then one big oven and so on.”

And Holten wasn’t only investing in equipment. As a retiree, doing all the hard labour required for baking was never going to be an option, and so Strange Grains has always relied on the assistance of the professional bakers Holten employs.

“The best bakers I’ve had are highly qualified, but they also don’t mind learning something new,” Holten said. “I’ve only ever had trouble with bakers who think they know more than I do and end up spoiling whole batches of bread by trying to do things their way.”

The willingness to learn new recipes and methods is the one aspect of cultural fit Holten demands. For everything else, she’s happy to be open minded.

“Having worked in hospitality for so long, I’ve come to accept that staff will come from a wide variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

“As a result, I’ll take on anybody who has the right skill and attitude. In fact, we’ve had overwhelmingly good experiences with people who have left their country of origin as refugees,” she said. “Many of the immigrants I’ve met and worked with are highly intelligent, highly skilled and tend to work really hard, I think because they’re keen to make their way ahead in a new home.”

As these Shark Tank contestants and their startups prove, there’s a whole wealth of talented people ready and willing to help you take your business to the next level.

And it’s up to you to recognise them.