Tech start-up triples headcount using social media referrals



Social media has played a critical role in helping tech start-up Vend triple its headcount over the last year, and head of talent Kirsti Grant advises recruiters that when it comes to social media there’s “no one tool to rule them all”.

Vend made approximately 60% of its hires last year through social media, and a large chunk of those came about by encouraging employees to share jobs via their networks and make referrals, Grant told Shortlist. “We’re a really, really social company… so we’ve created this really awesome community and ecosystem where everyone’s really, really proud to put in their bio that they work at Vend, and they’re proud to use their Vend photo as their avatar,” she said.

“They represent us really, really well, and they’re always engaging and talking with other people in the community so when they post a job up, people take notice.” Grant said one of the reasons Vend has prioritised social media over more traditional recruitment channels is a desire to maintain its brand.

“We don’t really post on job boards so much anymore because if I list a job up onto SEEK I’m going to get 100 applicants, and I’m going to have to reject 99 of them, and that’s not good. I don’t want people to think of Vend and go ‘Oh yeah. I got rejected from them’ so [we’re] really protecting the brand in that regard,” she said.

The company is planning to hire an additional 80 people this calendar year, and Grant said the challenge for Vend now is maintaining the current level of social media sharing and employee referrals. “You know how you sometimes go through a little phase of feeling like perhaps you might be milking everything dry and that there might not be any more internal referrals?

“We’ve got to work on some creative ways that aren’t always monetary focused. We don’t always want to have a referral fee. We actually want to have something nice, engaging, and fun and cool so we’re throwing around some ideas of what we can do there.”  Working in a one-person recruitment team makes it hard to find time for sourcing, but when it comes to social media having the right tools is critical, said Grant, who is speaking at next month’s IT18 conference in Auckland.

“It’s not a ‘one tool to rule them all’ situation. As soon as you start going down the track of finding one tool that does all of the things it’s an impossible piece of software to use, and it’s generally quite ‘old school’ and enterprise level,” she said.  “There are amazing solutions out there that fall into that software-as-a-service category, where they’re much more cost effective and you just pay a monthly subscription and it’s always being updated, so choosing technology like that is a really wise decision.”

Vend triples headcount following fundraising

When Grant joined the company last April, Vend had no recruiting systems in place, and hiring was mainly managed by founder Vaughan Rowsell through a mix of agency recruiters, job boards, and personal networks.

“Growth was sort of slow and steady. So [Vend hired] 30 people over two and a half years… In those days everyone in the entire company was involved in recruitment so as a candidate you could expect to sit in the boardroom with the whole company and interview,” she told Shortlist.  “The reason it was like that was because right in the early days it was identified that the culture was a key component of how we were going to be successful, so we wanted to hire really, really smart people who were totally enthusiastic and loved their craft, but also understood the size of the opportunity at Vend, and understood how they could contribute to our success.”

The NZ-headquartered company raised $8 million in funds last April, and a “good chunk” of the money went towards growing the company’s headcount from 30 to just under 100, said Grant. “We’ve tripled the company size now and have offices in four different countries, and across the board the culture in all of those satellite offices is an exact replication of head office. It doesn’t matter what country we’ve put it in, it’s like this beautiful little baby Vend HQ. So for me that’s my biggest success – an efficient process that hires these amazing people that incorporates this culture,” she said.

Technology had to be scalable

While social media has been key to delivering a pipeline of candidates to fill these vacancies, the company’s recruiting system, Workable, was equally important in supporting this growth, said Grant. “It’s a beautiful piece of software if you’re small, and you’re only hiring one or two people, but I’ve got like 20-plus roles [that I’m working on] and it’s still great, and will continue to be great,” she said.

Because hiring shifted from a decentralised process handled by individual managers to a centralised system, it was also important that the technology allowed hiring managers to remain involved in the hiring process, said Grant. “[I] needed to make sure that the hiring managers trusted me, and so to get their trust I needed to give them that transparency so I needed some way of showing them exactly what was going on at any given time,” she said.

“Hiring decisions are still a team effort now, so in many ways I’m kind of the funnel [or] facilitator, and look after people to a really high standard, but [for example] one of the QA roles that we’re placing today – he has had the tick of approval from…. six other Venders.”

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