October 25, 2021
December 7, 2021

How to Sell Your Startup Dream to Candidates

Lewis Mc Cahill

Every startup begins with a dream. Taking the first step to create your own business is one of the hardest ones, but also the most fulfilling. In creating your own business, you are embedding your personalities and values into the company. When your startup begins to pick up, there will come a time when you need to make some hires

The first ten hires you make will influence your next 100, so it’s important to make sure you find the right people for the key positions. But how can you attract your key hires with limited resources? How can you convince them to work with you on building the next big thing in tech? 

In this article we’ll discuss how to use your startup dream as a hiring strategy. We’ll share actionable tips on storytelling, talent mapping, and persuasion strategies. 

Finding Your Key Hires 

To really understand who to hire and what positions are needed, it’s best to first take a deep dive into your business objectives. 

You can’t sell your own company without first understanding what it is that makes your company a unique place for someone’s career development. Take some time to understand what sets you apart from the crowd, and what it is that will attract candidates to your company. Here are the most important questions you need to ask yourself before you start selling your company to candidates: 

  • What is the key ingredient to my company? 
  • Where will my company be in five years? 
  • What are the most important cultural aspects I want to prioritise within my company? 
  • Will I provide equity or share options to my early hires? 
  • What perks and benefits will help attract the best talent? 


Every good startup has a great story. Whether it’s the founding anecdote or the journey of the early years, it’s important to transcend the story of your entrepreneurial journey.

If a company’s story is told well, it will significantly increase the chances of finding passionate and enthusiastic hires that think alike. Use your vision and mission as an engine to foster a culture and understanding and empowerment geared towards the same goal. 

Knowing Who to Sell to 

Every startup dreams of finding a high-performing unicorn that will take its business to the next level. Regardless of the business size, it is usually a small number of high performers that provide the largest percentage of revenue for the company. 

For example, a highly motivated salesperson can bring in considerably more revenue than a less motivated or proficient salesperson. An intuitive and motivated software developer can find features, builds, and architecture that will vastly improve the quality of the product.

But how do you attract these excellent performers into your company? 

You can’t do it with money; high-performance candidates will also be well-sought-ought by bigger companies that can easily outbid you. 

One of the best advantages you have is your story. 

A candidate that really resonates with your product and ideas will be far more enticed to work with you and perform well - not just to improve your company, but to improve their own career. This is the best way for you to find the ideal candidates for your first positions. 

Spotting the Energy and Trajectory of Your Next Hire 

When you found your startup, you will be vying with every other company to hire high performers and sought-after talent. But, that is not always the best option. 

Many of the highest performers in your industry work well in their current company, but that does not necessarily mean that they will thrive in yours. 

Along with the leaders of the industry, it’s also important to remember that not all high performers will be standing in the spotlight. There are plenty of “loud” high performers with highly visible LinkedIn profiles or connections, but don’t ignore the less visible talent available to you. 

A proven track record is not always a key indicator of success - sometimes a candidate may seem like an excellent fit on paper but for a wide range of reasons may not be the right fit for your startup. 

Michael, ACELR8’s founder, believes strongly in energy and trajectory. We spoke with Michael before about how to grow a successful business from the bottom up, and it’s all about energy and trajectory.

“In terms of energy, the passionate candidates that genuinely care about what they do are the ones that I really get excited about. In addition, they question the industry, always looking at it from different perspectives.”  

To find the ideal candidates for your first hires, always factor in culture fit, growth trajectory, energy, and shared goals; it can be the key aspect in many situations in understanding who is the right fit for your role. But, let’s say you know your ideal talent pool and where to find them, how do you convince them that you’re the best fit for them? 

How do you sell them your story? 

Reaching Out 

A large majority of excellent candidates are not actively looking for new positions. For you to find the right hire, you can considerably improve your chances by actively sourcing top talent. But how do you convince them to work for you? 

To answer this question, I asked our co-founder Isabel Strijland, who gave me some excellent tips: 

  • Hear the candidate out, know what drives them, what they are looking for and customise your startup story to make them fit into it. Let them be the hero of that story
  • Share the challenges you are facing as a startup/founder and ask the candidate how to overcome them -  my assumption here is that great talent likes to solve great challenges
  • Switching from enterprise to startup means you have a lot of ownership, speed and influence on how the business is shaped

Overall, ensure that the story you are telling is directly related to their career goals and values. It pays to take the time to focus on the unique qualities of each high-value candidate and can considerably improve your chances of hiring them. 

Celebrate Your Differences 

If you can define your identity and key differentiator early on, you will have an exceptional advantage in building your team. Keep your voice honest and sincere; this is the best way of hiring talent that shares your desired goal. When creating your startup story and telling it, always remember to ask yourself: 

“Why should this be relevant to candidates?”

Then, you can go a step further and aim to present your story with a missing piece - a piece that can be placed by your next hire. 

For example, let’s say you have an excellent product idea but you are in need of a product manager. Creating a story that places them as the solution and centre of the journey will help you to find motivated candidates who want to help you succeed. 

Offer a Win-Win Challenge 

Candidates attracted to startups are attracted to challenges as challenges often mean career growth. In selling your startup dream, show your potential hires the obstacles they can solve for your business and how their success will help your company grow. 

If they’re an engineer or developer, present them the possibility of learning a new language or approach. If they’re in sales or product, present the opportunity of building their own department or creating a strategy that is entirely their own. Again, the best way of presenting your startup story is by making the potential hire a character within it. 

However, it is also important to stay realistic within these stories. 

Present clear objectives, honest expected outcomes, and limits. This way, candidates will see the allure of the startup’s potential while also understanding the roadmap and exactly how to achieve within your company. 

Know Your Customer 

A lead engineer coming from a major corporation and an engineering manager from a small business are going to have entirely different career priorities and objectives. They may both be an ideal fit for your company, but selling the role to them will take two entirely different approaches. 

When meeting with high-value candidates, always factor in their own background and experience. This way, you can create a more tailored pitch to convince them to work for you. 

At ACELR8, we’ve found that searching for the right talent is the number one concern of early-stage startups, even more so than revenue or customer acquisition. Despite this, many founders only spend 20% of their time searching for talent, which is not enough. 

To solve this issue, founders can either focus more time on hiring the right people or reach out to the experts. 

ACELR8’s Talent Partners embed themselves within companies, letting them fully understand the needs, culture, and story of the business. 

This way, they can sell your startup story sincerely, attracting the right talent and high performers to help your business get off the ground. 

If you are looking for the right talent for your startup, reach out to us today to learn how we can help you hire right. 

Thank you!

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