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How to hire the first employees in a startup – interview with Cristi Badea, Co-Founder of MavenHut

cristi badeaCristi Badea is an entrepreneur in his mid 20s, with a strong passion for growing businesses with limited resources. He spent his last six years in the online gaming industry, where he built and marketed from scratch games that reached several million players, throughout the world. Earlier this year, he was featured on the cover of Forbes magazine, as one of the 30 under 30, a special award received for innovation.

He’s one of the co-founders of MavenHut, where he is in charge of game design and running operations in the Bucharest studio. 

MavenHut is a social gaming company that was founded in Summer 2012. Their first title Solitaire Arena, is one of the most trending games on Facebook this year, with more than 2,5M players. MavenHut is a StartupBootcamp alumni and it recently raised a seed round of over $700k.

Check their company profile on splinter.me: https://splinter.me/companies/mavenhut


Q: At startups there is a lot to do, but also limited resources. So what marked the moment to extend your team and start hiring?

A: Obviously you need the cash in order to start hiring. For us, the purpose of raising an investment round was only to get more talent on board. Our first product (Solitaire Arena – a Facebook game) was growing really fast and we needed a bigger team that would sustain this growth.

Q: How did you decide for which roles to hire? 

A: Back then, we lacked a fully functional product team. Our first hire was a programmer, than a producer, a tester and another programmer. We managed to get everyone to join our team in less than 4 months. It’s worth mentioning that we were already a team of three founders (a tech, a business and a product guy).

Q: What were the challenges and lessons learned from hiring your first employees?

A: We first reached out to our network, to seek for the first employees. We were especially reaching to people with whom we worked closely in other ventures. That’s a low hanging fruit, since you already have a special bonding with these guys and there are no major issues (mainly concerning trust). But your network won’t get you far and you quickly realize that there is a limited amount of talent that you are willing to build your company with.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of disappointment as well, your ex-colleagues that simply don’t believe in you or your venture (even though you already have quite some traction). So we started improving this process by getting more press coverage, participating in competitions and winning a lot of awards. This proved to be a smart move, since there was a quick turn-around and we soon got some interesting resumes.


Q: How were you assessing the skills and the cultural fit for the candidates?

A: We usually have a straight forward process, with short interviews and just a couple of tests. We were seeking for some interest from the candidate in our company, that goes beyond reading our ‘About us’ section. For example, we are highly attracted by candidates that would ask a lot of smart questions, that are genuinely interesting in discovering and learning new things.

Of course, there was a lot of time wasted with divas that were considering themselves superstars. In order to address this issue, during an interview, we started by asking only one question: “Did you play our game?” – if the answer was ‘No’, we would politely stand up and let that candidate know that the interview is over. Later on, we were having the first interview by phone (a phone conversation is much easier to end than a one-on-one meeting, once you figure out that is not the guy you are looking for).

Q: How do you feel as a co-founder when you have a growing team? What are the challenges in setting up an organisational culture? How do you motivate the employees?

A: Now we are a team of 12, motivating and offering enough attention to every single member in our team is not that much of a challenge. The fact that we are three founders helps a lot here. We like to get everyone involved in most of our decision making processes, by applying agile methodologies. The team is self-organised and this will probably help us build the organisational culture, as we will increase the headcount.

Q: What would you do different in your future hiring process?

A: We are obsessed with constant improvements. We are trying different recruitment tools, working with a couple of head-hunting companies and joining local tech events at least once a week. We like to believe that there is always a better way to hire talent and we’re experimenting new stuff with each new opening. Also, we like to get all three founders involved in the hiring process, since early employees have a big impact in your business.