After about four years working on DuckDuckGo as the only one full-time, I've hired Caine Tighe as employee #1! I have high confidence he's going to be a great fit because we've been already working together for over a year. But more on that in a moment.
First, a caveat. Don't take what I say about hiring too seriously for obvious reasons: I think almost everyone else in my situation would have started hiring a long time ago. My last company actually went from founding to exit with no employees. At my first company, I did hire about five people right out of the gate, but it was too many, too fast, and not the right people to boot. Arguably, the pendulum has swung too far back in the other direction.
Anyway, I wrote about not hiring before. Now I want to tell you about inbound hiring.
I get a lot of people offering to work for DuckDuckGo. I also get a lot of requests from people just wanting to help out. That's what I call inbound hiring, i.e. hiring out of these inbound requests.
My hunch (yes, it is just a hunch at this point) is that among this group of people are great candidates and (just as importantly) great fits for the company. The reasoning is three-fold.
First, excitement. All these people are excited about DuckDuckGo. After all, they took the time to come inbound. Something about the company motivated them to take that step, and I think that in and of itself is an amazing filter.
Second, because of that excitement, there is an opportunity to ease into a position over time (and it could be a long period of time). In Caine's case we started working on a project together last summer (unfortunately it is still not live). After it completed we worked on a bigger project together (Android app), and that project directly led to where we are today.
Third, they are the type of person (by definition) that takes initiative. They work on side projects. They have ideas. They go after what they want. Those seem like good things to me.
There are several other people who are currently working on DuckDuckGo in some capacity, and all of them came inbound in this manner. So far it makes for a great team environment.
That's all well and good, but how do you get enough inbound requests to matter?
In my case, I think it is three things:
- My blog. You need somewhere to speak, and a blog is great for that. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it is worth it, and not just for this reason. There are other places to speak though: conferences, hackathons, meetups, etc.
- Keep it real. You could talk about engineering, marketing, or a variety of subjects that every tech company has to deal with. But when you do talk about those things, you could either be super vague and boring or get into the nitty gritty of what you're doing, the reasoning behind choices you've made, and the resulting real numbers. What do you think gets people excited?
- Do something interesting. Or as Fred Wilson put it on his blog yesterday, have a Minimum Viable Personality. People want to be part of something that stands for something. They don't want to work for Initech.
Will it scale? I don't know. Clearly I'm not at the point to find out.
This process at least seems to work well for companies at the earliest stages of hiring, i.e. for those critical first few employees. However, I suspect if done well it can scale decently well.
For example, you can foster company-universe communication via blogs, twitter, etc. You can have an open-source wing. You can funnel people through an internship program.
Maybe not all employees will come inbound, but perhaps a decent percentage can arrive in this manner. The real question, which I have no data for, is over the long run does this cohort preform better? If you have some data to shed light on this question, please share it.
I'm trying to formalize this process a bit more. If you're interested start messing around on our GitHub wiki. I'm also working on an internship program for next summer.