Reverse remote - the best hiring strategy

We've found that startups can build robust teams by relocating talent from non-competitive locations. It results in a strong and diverse culture with high retention.

Hiring is one of the biggest challenges for startups. It’s difficult to hire not just engineers, but also designers, product managers, sales leaders, and others. The competition for talent has intensified 10x after COVID. Startups are pumped with VC cash and are now bidding up prices for talent faster than before. Pre-COVID, talent wars were fairly limited to the Bay Area but with the advent of remote work, they’ve gone global.

Startups (and the wider industry) are still debating the best way to organize teams. Teams are reorganizing themselves into 3 broad buckets - remote/fully distributed, in person, and hybrid. The decisions are made based on the current team’s preference, talent availability, and leadership’s inclination. All options have pros and cons which can be debated all day long.

But I’m most excited about a new dimension of building a team - reverse remote (or relocation).

I realized very early that team members who relocate are special. They are motivated and hungry. They are aligned with the mission of the company and keen to contribute. Relocating is their big break and they want to prove themselves (more so than the average). Because moving to a new country, state, or city is a big step. They will uproot their lives only if they like the company and strongly believe in the future potential.

That’s why immigrants are, generally, more hardworking and eventually successful in the U.S. They are a group of self-selected and highly motivated individuals who want to build a better life. They take advantage of every opportunity. This is their one shot and they give it everything they got. They have burned the ships. Going back feels like failure. And no one wants to feel like a failure.

Choosing this strategy for hiring has several big advantages:

  • Positive Self Selection: If you make it a requirement to move to the company’s headquarters, only the most motivated candidates who want to work at your startup will relocate. Obviously, you’ll lose out on some great talent too. But the goal is to select for both quality and motivation. Generally, it’s more difficult to find people who align with the startup’s mission and want to see it succeed than to find talent that’s just good. Anyone who doesn’t align with the mission won’t relocate.

  • Motivation (desire to prove): Talent that relocates also has a strong motivation to prove themselves. Not just to the company but to themselves. They have to justify why they uprooted their life. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s better to pick motivated individuals who have something to prove over entitled folks.

  • Stronger team culture: They also start a new life with your company at the center. The team is their initial network. A new family. That’s where they start new friendships. This strong bond leads to better communication and improved collaboration. It takes a while to build a network outside of the company and even then, friendships built at the startup are special.

  • Fresh ideas: Talent living in the same physical location become a part of the bubble. But startups constantly need fresh ideas and new perspectives. People moving from different locations bring new ideas for solving problems, and empathy for the customer. This helps with building robust solutions.

  • Untapped networks: When people move, they leave their friends and networks behind. But when they catch up and discuss their new job, they market the startup to their friends. They become an advocate and sell the same dream to their friends. Those friends are not being actively recruited by other startups. An opportunity to hire untapped talent.

But relocating good candidates is not an easy task. It’s expensive and comes with logistical challenges of building a pipeline, phone interviews, and flying them in for a day. You are also leaving out a large talent pool. But it’s all about tradeoffs.

Like-minded people meet and form relationships on the internet. But if you pluck them out of their physical surroundings and move to a new location, the bond will be far stronger. Their output will be much greater. That’s why all cults are formed in a small remote location.

Miami is one example of this in action. Everyone who moves is full of energy, has something to prove, building a new network, and advocating its advantages to their Bay Area friends. There is a strong need to justify to themselves that they made the right decision. That’s why they are also always publicly advocating.

If you can build a team by relocating talent to a new location, you can design and build a culture that you want. It is tough but well worth the cost.

Hope this is helpful when thinking about building your team.

Feel free to follow me or send me a note on Twitter @rohitdotmittal. I am always around for discussions.

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