Recruiting agencies are mixed ROI for small startups largely due to cost, incentives, and variance in quality:

You may consider using an agency when hiring for roles where you aren’t an expert and don’t have a strong network. E.g., at Gem, we tried several agencies in the early days but didn’t see any success until we were larger with a Director of Marketing search. In these cases, I’d make sure to find an agency specializing in the specific role you’re looking to hire that has a deep network of qualified candidates. Even then, I’d encourage you to focus on your network first!

As a side note: agencies are very valuable for executive hiring, but that’s not as relevant when building out your founding team.

How to pick an agency

Start by asking your network for a few intros. You’ll want to pick an agency that references well from another founder you trust.

Schedule kick-off calls with each agency:

  1. [5-10 mins] Give them an overview of your company and the role you’re looking to fill
  2. [15 mins] Ask them a few questions to dig into searches they’ve worked on in the past
  3. [5-10 mins] Ask them to pitch your company back to you in a few minutes or less. They’ll be the first touchpoint with every candidate they send you, and will likely be involved, so you’ll want to be confident that they can represent your company well. You can also schedule a follow-up conversation if they aren’t ready to pitch on your first call.
  4. Do a few back-channel references. You should have a good list from number 2.

Outside of references and digging into questions, tiebreak based on who you enjoy talking to the most. If you enjoyed interacting with them, hopefully, your candidates will as well.

Top Startup Agency List

Looking for leads on which Agencies partner with startups? Here’s an Airtable database of Top Startup Agencies that I crowd-sourced across two LinkedIn posts (post 1, post 2, in case you want to see the endorsements yourself)

You can filter down the list to agencies that specialize in what you need: