Founder’s Corner: How Hiring Changes from Employee 5 to 500

After transitioning his business from a small, tight knit unit to a large-scale business, UnboundID CEO Steve Shoaff has learned a thing or two about how that growth can impact a company’s hiring strategy.

SteveShoaff_hiring 5 to 500

When it comes to running a successful business, few decisions are more important than those first early hires.
Making sure your initial core group is aligned around the same vision, values, and goals is absolutely crucial. As you grow, however, your hiring needs and focus begin to change. While that initial emphasis on cultural fit and technical competency is still important, expansion brings with it a need to branch out and fill new roles required to develop organizational structure and processes, and to operate the growing company on a day-to-day basis.
Founders often find themselves needing to build out sales and marketing teams as well as HR and recruiting functions — areas they may not have deep expertise in or that may not be their strong suit. The nature of the roles they need to hire for often undergoes a shift, as well — from people who excel at getting hands-on with the product and driving its early development to people who excel at managing coworkers and teams, as well as building and executing against an established, repeatable, and scalable process.
In the video below, UnboundID co-founder and CEO Steve Shoaff shares the story of how his company’s approach to team building evolved from the ground up to get the business to where it is today.

How Hiring Changes from Employee 5 to 500

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From its start with a slightly unorthodox five-member founding team to its current manifestation as the leading platform provider for identity services, Austin-based UnboundID has evolved to meet not only the needs of a highly discerning customer base, but its own rapidly growing hiring needs, as well. Co-founder and CEO Steve Shoaff walks you through the transition and shares his key learnings in the video above.

Key Takeaways

There Are Advantages to Building Around a Mature Team [0:28]

In the market UnboundID was selling into — enterprise businesses looking to invest in high quality infrastructure software — Shoaff and his founding team knew that buyers would only work with startups that were not only creative and agile, but also capable of building extremely secure and reliable software from the start.
“When you make software that is mission critical for businesses, they really don’t want the fly-by-night, super exciting, typical Silicon Valley ‘throw it out there and see what works’ stuff,” Shoaff explains.
As a result, the early team UnboundID focused on assembling was one comprised of very mature executives with experience in that market — people with hard-earned experience who had been there before and knew exactly what they needed to do.

Make Sure You’re Hiring the Right Type of Developers for Your Solution [1:18]

“When we went to build a team, we started off — as most startups do — very engineering heavy,” Shoaff recalls. But due to the high expectations of their target customers, the company narrowed their search to a very particular type of candidate.
“We were looking for people who were extremely accomplished and mature, and who shared the mindset of, ‘A customer is going to rely on this software and rely on it heavily, and if that software fails it could be a Wall Street Journal event,'” Shoaff explains. “So we looked for a class of developer early on that was very good at infrastructure software and had a high-quality mindset.”
Tip for Other Founders: Early on, it is especially important to pinpoint the ideal characteristics and attitude you’re looking for in technical talent in addition to the proper skill set required.

As Your Team Expands, Hand Off Recruiting to a Hiring Manager [1:57]

As UnboundID grew, so did the diversity of roles, and the team soon became less engineering-focused. At that point, Shoaff says, things got exciting but also very different.
“You go from meeting and knowing everyone, and being involved in every interview, to showing up at the coffee machine and having no idea who’s standing next to you,” Shaoff recalls. For many founding teams, this can be a difficult adjustment, and one of the keys to transitioning is learning how to embrace a more strategic leadership role and delegate effectively.
“That’s an important part of a company’s maturation,” Shoaff says, “letting go of the hiring process and letting your managers do that. [Trying to] be involved in every interview is actually an inhibitor to growth.”

Additional Resources for Hiring and Transitioning into New Roles at the Expansion Stage

Mike Myatt Shares 4 Keys to Developing a Thriving Culture of Leadership
Think the key to good leadership is being the smartest person in the room? Think again. Fortune 500 CEO advisor Mike Myatt explains how the most effective executives work to let go and develop a strong culture of leadership that relies on and empowers others.

Moz’s Rand Fishkin on a Founder’s Role After Funding
Landing investment capital is both a triumph and a trial for any company. Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin shares his thoughts on the evolving nature of a founder’s role after funding and his approach to supporting a newly expanded team.

Jason Lemkin on The Biggest Mistake You Can Make When Hiring Your First Sales Rep
Jason Lemkin, author of the popular SaaS strategy blog,, explains why one of the biggest mistakes companies make when hiring their first sales rep is hiring just one instead of two.

Webinar on Finding Hidden Talent: Hiring Software Engineers
In this free 30-minute webinar video, OpenView’s talent team shares its secrets for successfully targeting and engaging with top technical talent based on exclusive data on what software engineers care about most.

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Photo by: Simon & His Camera

Steve Shoaff
Steve Shoaff
CEO & Founder

Steve Shoaff is the CEO and founder at UnboundID, defining the company's vision and overall business strategy. He is also the Chief Product Officer at Ping Identity. Steve is internationally recognized as a trusted adviser on identity and security issues for Global 100 companies. Prior to founding UnboundID, he served as Technical Director and Chief of Staff for the Identity Management product division at Sun Microsystems, and as Senior Product Manager for Directory and Security at Netscape Communications. Steve has also been a key technical adviser to the US Department of Justice.
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