A startup founder’s guide to building an inbound talent pipeline

Countless startups begin with one or two founders sitting around a kitchen table and developing an idea. The months and years following…

A startup founder’s guide to building an inbound talent pipeline

Countless startups begin with one or two founders sitting around a kitchen table and developing an idea. The months and years following that can be a blur of activity with founders filling multiple roles and barely taking time off.

As the company grows, having access to the right people to build the team, becomes crucial. You may feel that your startup is not yet at this stage. Another objection may be that lining up talent right now would take away your focus from what is more important.

However, being able to add to your team quickly and efficiently, can make the difference between a startup flourishing or floundering. Starting to build a talent pipeline will put your organization in a favorable position.

Here is a closer look at how and why you should start right now.

What is a talent pipeline?

A talent pipeline is a pool of potential candidates for existing or future job openings your startup has. Depending on the size of your organization, these might be people ready for internal promotion or external candidates keen to join your company.

Creating talent pipelines is a strategy for companies looking to approach recruitment proactively. The idea is to build relationships with candidates who fit the company’s culture and philosophy before there is an immediate need.

Why you need to start now

Recruiting a world class team takes time. At the early stages of building your startup you may feel that you are not yet ready to extend your team. However, many young companies undergo growth spurts rather than a linear development. This means that you may need to hire several candidates in a short time.

Having a pool of candidates available makes it easier to scale up fast when the opportunity arises. Rather than starting your search you contact potential pre-screened candidates. Rather than starting with an introduction, you have already built relationships with your potential new team members.

Top candidates for the positions you need to fill are often not easy to find. The time you spend building a pipeline now will be saved later when you have a selection of candidates on your database.

Why it matters for your next investment round

Securing funding is key to the successful development of a startup. The process can be lengthy at times, with presentations and meetings with potential investors or business angels. However, once funding has been agreed, things tend to move fast.

In order to deliver on the predictions presented to prospective investors, your startup needs to react quickly. This includes expanding your staff. Being able to show your talent pipeline to investors can make the difference when it comes to securing finance.

It shows your ability to forward plan, and it may help convince investors that your startup has the edge over your competitors. Waiting to start your search until finance has been secured unnecessarily delays your organization’s development.

How to line up the best talent for your organization

Having considered the reasons for creating a talent pipeline, it’s time to look at how to go about the process. There are two basic strategies: reaching out actively and approaching potential candidates is one. The other involves attracting future candidates to approach you.

Reaching out

1. Companies you admire. As you are building your company, you are most likely looking at other companies you admire. They have the staff, know-how and experience that will help you grow.

There are plenty of tools available to help with this process. LinkedIn Sales Navigator, for example, allows you to draw up and import a list of suitable companies. With that in hand, you can take a closer look at potential new recruits for your enterprise.

Apart from specific knowledge and expertise, look at staff who have been with the company for anything between three and five years. At that stage, many professionals are open to a new challenge. Leaving their current employer may also be easier at this stage as stock options are vested.

Approaching employees of another company does require a bit of diplomacy. However, their profiles on platforms like LinkedIn may help you decide who is more likely to be open to an approach.

2. Different vertical markets. Most professionals enjoy a degree of variety during their career. Approaching candidates with the expertise you need, who are currently in a different niche, will open up your startup to a range of different possibilities.

Take marketing, for example: a marketing expert who has worked in an agency environment serving different clients, may be interested to change to an in-house setting. This would allow them to focus their work on the equivalent of one client and build their career in a different way.

Moving from the public sector to a private enterprise may also be enticing. Whilst many public sector positions tend to offer stability, the excitement of being part of an early-stage startup may win them over. After all, being part of the core team of a relatively new company means having the opportunity to make your mark on the company’s development.

3. Preparing a diverse team. Actively building a talent pipeline allows your startup to deliberately source candidates from diverse backgrounds. There are a number of benefits to having a diverse workforce.

According to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) employing staff from diverse backgrounds helps create a “melting pot of fresh ideas”. You will notice increased creativity and potential for innovation. Problem-solving capacity and decision making are also likely to increase.

All of those capabilities are crucial for a startup’s success. In the very early stages of your company’s development, you will need flexible thinkers who can adapt to changing requirements and pivot easily.

By creating a diverse talent pipeline you are building this flexibility into your business plan almost by default.

4. International talent. Our professional world is becoming smaller. This has become especially clear over the past year as working from home and dialling into meetings remotely became the norm.

With that in mind, actively approaching talent abroad is a distinct possibility for startups. Apart from taking even more advantage of the benefits of a diverse workforce you may also gain from having staff in different time zones.

Initially, having staff in different time zones might look like a burden as meetings need to be arranged at times suitable around the globe. However, in reality it may help you extend your company’s working hours. As the day ends in Asia, for example, your Europe-based staff can take over.

Of course, working like this requires time and effort to set up the most suitable tools that allow easy collaboration. But this is where new companies are at an advantage. You are not yet settled with legacy software and procedures. Instead, you can choose the most suitable tools right from the start.

Drawing talent in

1. Use your website. Obvious as it may sound, the careers section of your website is one of the simplest tools to enable potential candidates to approach you.

This opportunity is not limited to the times when actual openings exist. Welcoming applications or informal approaches at other times is an excellent opportunity for you to start building a relationship with interested candidates.

By approaching your startup, the candidates already show that they are keen to join your team. As a consequence, you no longer need to convince them as you might have to do for candidates you approach.

2. Personality and vision. The best candidates are often motivated by more than just financial rewards. Especially in the startup scene, professionals join a company because they believe in its founder(s) and its vision.

Having a strong personal brand as a founder is an excellent way to attract future team members. Personal branding creates a following and can add credibility to a new company. After all, people work for people. The opportunity to work for an inspirational founder may count more than a big pay check.

We have recently compiled tips for personal branding here.

A strong vision and mission for your startup also aids in building your talent pipeline. Highly talented people are often looking for a cause to work for rather than a business. A clear mission and vision behind you company’s commercial offering will be attractive to future candidates.

3. Multiply your marketing efforts. Make the most of your employees’ and your own social media profiles to help multiply any company marketing efforts. With its focus on professional networking. LinkedIn is often the most suitable platform for this.

Encourage your staff to keep their profiles up to date and share or comment on company information. This not only multiplies the exposure company content receives online. It also functions as an endorsement of the work your company does.

Granted, not every employee is highly present on social media. However, with a little help and encouragement many will be able to maximize the opportunities there. This includes personal branding, which is linked to company branding, as well as blogging.

Generally speaking, the more visible your founding team is in its endorsement of your startup, the more attractive the company becomes to others.

Tailor your approach

Building a talent pipeline is the opposite of a hard sell. It is a mid to long-term process of relationship building in order to prepare you and your startup for the time when you need fast access to talent.

Initially, it is all about doing your research and finding the right potential candidates. The size of your talent pipeline depends on the number of staff you plan on hiring and on your individual business. Candidates with very specific expertise are often sought-after and may be approached by more than one potential employer at a given time.

When approaching candidates who have not applied to you, treading lightly works best. You need to work on their terms and be persistent. This may mean calling or meeting outside of business hours, for example.

A talent pipeline allows you to do some of your due diligence without time pressure. Candidate pre-screening normally happens after an application has been received, but you can do some of that work whilst establishing contact. It means that when a job opening arises, you already know that you are making an offer to the right candidate.

For pre-screening to be effective, you need to have a clear idea of your startup’s future staffing needs. You may feel that as the founder you are best placed to have this knowledge. This is partially true. However, it is possible to be too close to the subject. To avoid problems associated with this, ensure you are checking with co-founders and other staff. Don’t be afraid to ask outsiders like friends and family. They often have a birds-eye view and can provide a valuable perspective.

Finding potential candidates and establishing relationships is one part of building a talent pipeline. It is equally important to nurture those connections. Some of this will require personal contact including phone calls and meetings.

However, never underestimate the power of social media platforms in this respect. Creating engaging content there that encourages comments and reactions can go a long way. Personal contact, on the other hand, allows you to find out more about your potential candidates. Often, a combined approach works best.

With all of this preparation done, your startup should be ready to interview suitable candidates quickly and efficiently when jobs are opening up.


Creating a talent pipeline is all about preparing your startup and yourself as a founder for growth. It is a great way of doing groundwork when there is time. You will avoid getting caught out when things get busy.

Waiting to look for suitable candidates until you really need them means delaying opportunities. On the other hand, having access to a pool of suitable candidates gives you an advantage when you need to expand.

Having planned ahead and created connections with the candidates you would really like to join your team increases your chances of attracting top talent at the right time.

Read more about inbound talent pipeline building from IPRally’s experience.