How to prepare your SaaS for high growth by building talent pipelines | Samuli Salonen – TalentBee
Samuli: At TalentBee, we make talent acquisition for fast-growing SaaS companies. So basically, the problem we are solving for those companies is to make sure that finding the right talent and having those talents stay within your company won’t become a growth problem. So it’s a combination of recruitment, employer branding, and building talent pipelines for SaaS companies.
What services do you offer?
Samuli: Most of our customers are ongoing customers, so we believe in them doing recruitment, employer branding, and talent pipelines that it should be an ongoing process rather than a project-based one. But we also do some head-hunting projects on this side every now and then.
How do companies usually run their talent acquisition processes?
Samuli: I think kind of a typical challenge if we look at a sales company is that most companies do it in a quite ad hoc way. And what I mean by that is they realize that, oh, no, now we need a developer, or, oh, no, now we need another salesperson or marketing person, and then they start to look for that person.
And it’s kind of weird for me because I have a background in sales and marketing, and if I look at how SaaS companies are running their sales and marketing, there’s typically a sales strategy and marketing strategy. They are doing it all the time. You know, building those sales pipelines, making sure that they’re nurturing potential customers, and doing it all the time.
But then, when we look at recruitment in a lot of companies, it’s very project-based.
The correct approach when you’re running talent acquisition
Samuli: I think the better solution is to try to approach it in a similar way that you are approaching your sales, your marketing, or your product. So I think every SaaS company out there… they do have a product roadmap, or they have a sales strategy or something like that, and they are doing it all the time. And if we look at a traditional strategy, where they typically start from is the business calls.
When you are thinking about your recruitment and who you should be hiring, you should think about your business goals, what is happening in your product, when you are getting the next funding rounds, and so forth. So you should kind of consider the big picture. And after you know the big picture, you should be considering, okay, who or what are the team members that we need to achieve those business goals, and when do we need those people?
Like what kind of people we need right now, what kind of people we need in six months, what kind of people we need in 12 months, what kind of people we need in, let’s say, 24 months when we are raising A round or B round of funding. So kinda having that long, long mindset over there. And then I think lastly, what a lot of companies are still lacking is that they are not thinking about what kind of talent they need.
And that is, of course, a kinda important question to ask. Like, Hey, what kind of salesperson do I need, what kind of marketing person? But the thing that most companies forget is – What kind of person can I really can get? For who is this next possible carrier step? Because I feel like a lot of time a SaaS company is looking for a head of sales, and then they’re like, okay, we want someone who has done the same exact thing in the past.
Why would that person join your company? And you really need to understand that one. Of course, for someone, it might be salary. For someone, it might be the culture. For someone, it might be that they really wanna make the trip again. But most of the people who are working for companies always want to get that next career step.
Do something they haven’t done before, and there is a misalignment over there. Or what companies want, and then what the talent was. So really, finding the balance over there is super, super, super important.
What is the true cost of a wrong hire?
Samuli: It is a lot. It is a lot. And if we really think about whatever the role is, it is super expensive to hire the wrong person. Let’s take an example. For example, let’s say someone, let’s say, head of product for your SaaS company. What happens if you fail and hire the wrong person? Basically, first of all, you spend a lot of time hiring that person.
Let’s say 2, 3, or 4 months of your time. You might be using some agents there. You might be doing it for yourself, but it takes a lot of time. Then you get someone on board, and they work for your company, let’s say, five or six months, and then they are not a fit. You’ll be paying their salary for five or six months. Then your product is not going where it should be going.
You might lose some customers. You are unable to close new customers because your product isn’t compatible anymore. So eventually, I think there’s a lot of data on that one, but I roughly estimated that one wrong hire is easily like 100k for the company. So it’s kind of huge money to me to be missed over there.
When should you choose an agency, and when should you build an internal HR team?
Samuli: I think that even though I’m from recommendation, every sales company should own its own talent acquisition function. And the main reason why I believe that is that the people and talent acquisition function is one of the most important functions of your business. If you don’t have the people, you don’t have the business, and if we look at basically any SaaS company or any SaaS founder that I’ve been talking to and ask them why they’ve been successful, you know, everyone is mentioning “Hey, our team, our team is so good.”
And the key over there is really to build that team. I believe that companies really should be owning that function by themselves. But how I see that one going is, when you are starting out your own SaaS company, of course, in the beginning, you are, as a founder, basically doing the recruitment.
It’s through your networks, and you are trying to find people out there who should join your company. You might be doing some outreach on LinkedIn for potential employees, maybe doing some job ads and so forth, and then at some point comes the moment when you should have a full-time talent acquisition person in your team.
Of course, the earlier, the better. But I think a good rule of thumb here is that when recruiting plus 10 people a year, there’s enough work for a talent acquisition professional in your team because it takes time to find those people. And then when it goes to kind of utilizing agencies, I think there are kind of multiple reasons for that one.
For one, when you are opening up new markets, and you wanna have, let’s say, market experience from that particular market. Typically in between, when you are still kind of doing the hiring as a founder, but before kind of going to having an in-house person, there are typically a lot of things to be done.
And on those cases, like an agency with, let’s say, 50% working hours would make sense for me at least. And then I think one place especially is like when you are raising funding. Because of course, there are exceptions, but typically, when you are raising, it means that you are growing your headcount rapidly over the next 12 months, and then, you just kind of do it yourself.
So then you really, really need to be fast. And that’s, for example, for us, the best, best spots to work with. With customers who have just raised their seed or a round of funding. And then there’s like a lot of hiring happening. So then there’s kind of too much work for them for the current team.
How to find your first HR person
Samuli: Yeah, that’s good. That’s a good question. I think, why don’t we come back to the fact we talked about earlier? So, I think there are a few things you should be first asking yourself before trying to find that talent. And I think the three most important questions are, first, what kind of skill set do we need from the person who’s joining our team?
And these are to be the hard skills. Then there is what kind of person fits our culture, fits our team. And then the third one, the one that most companies forget, is what we can really get. Like, who would be super excited about this opportunity? So kind of, once you figure out those three questions and you really kind of nail down the profile you are looking for, then you can kinda start the search.
And I think the profile definition is something that most companies miss, and it’s super interesting. For example, I’m currently working with one SaaS company on the head of sales recruitment. And what’s super interesting is that their management team, when I have discussions with them, ask questions and all of them want different things.
And for example, when I show them like, Hey, here’s three candidates, which one is your favorite? Like, everyone answers the different one. And so it’s super important first that everyone at the company agrees what kind of person we are looking for, and then like how to find that person. I think there are typically a few different strategies, and it really depends a lot on what you are looking for.
So typically, SaaS companies, they do have these easy-to-fill roles. For example, in this current market situation, I feel like it’s quite easy to find recruiters. It’s quite easy to find marketing people. It’s quite easy to find customer success people. And for example, for us and our customers, just opening up a job ad, doing that one properly, and you will get high-quality applications.
But then, on the other hand, when you are looking for a more senior or technical person or someone to your C level or account executive, suddenly, opening up a job ad doesn’t work that well. So you really need to be finding those potential candidates doing outreach to them multi-channel and really trying to get them interested in the opportunity. And, of course, in the long run, you should be building those talent pipelines. So just to give an example, if we look at a SaaS company that is growing and they will need a lot of account executors in the upcoming years, they should be talking with account executives all the time, even though they wouldn’t be hiring right now.
Building those relationships, nurturing them, and then, when they are in that situation, let’s say, ” Hey, okay, now we raised a round of funding”, then there are already those people we have a relationship with, and we can continue the discussion with rather than starting from zero, from scratch.
What is employer branding?
Samuli: Yeah. Yeah. I think employee planning is super important. I think we can look at this from, you know, a sales and marketing perspective first. If we look at what’s been happening in a lot of SaaS companies in the past five or 10 years. I feel like 10 years ago, you know, a lot of companies were just doing sales.
There wasn’t anyone in marketing, mostly sales. And then, at some point, it went that a lot of SaaS companies started to invest more in marketing, maybe some lead generation, getting those inbound leads in, and then eventually brand marketing. So SaaS companies realized – actually, we could not compete on features, we need to compete on brand.
If we look at, let’s say, CRM tools, there, you know, there are so many. There are HubSpot, Salesforce, small players, big players, and the brand is actually one of the biggest reasons why companies might choose a kind of product. And then, when we look at what is going on in recruitment, I feel like in recruitment and employer branding, the situation is similar to what was in sales and marketing for 10 years.
So most companies are only doing recruitment kind of outbound sales in a way, like conducting those potential candidates. But if we look at how people are currently changing their jobs, people wanna work for cool brands. If you ask any of your friends, like, Hey, is there a company that you would like to work for someday?
Everyone knows a company, and that’s basically the employer brand. And companies should be building that one all the time, and it’s quite similar to building your brand towards your customers, but now the target audience is your potential employees. And it’s just really figuring out what your unique selling points as a company are.
How do you position against your competitors who you are competing against the same talent? And that then just kinda making sure that you are talking about those topics, those stories on different channels, whether it’s LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, be advertising events, communities and everything like that. So that’s basically how I see employer branding.
Samuli: Our pricing… We have actually two pricing models. So basically, we have an ongoing talent acquisition as a service where our customers basically get a recruiter, an employer branding person, handling everything regarding their talent acquisition. There’s the customers typically start from roughly 3k a month upwards to, you know, 15-20K a month, depending on how much they are recruiting per year.
And then, for head-hunting projects, of course. Depending on the role, as we shared earlier, finding a customer success manager is way easier than finding a VP of sales for your company. But I would say projects typically go from 8,000 euros to 20,000 euros, just roughly.
So, yeah. The ongoing one is recurring, and we handle your talent acquisition every month. And then, there are some projects every now and then when companies are just looking for help for one role.
What’s your favorite case study?
Samuli: Yeah, I think one of my personal favorites is from our customers. It’s a company called Foodelo. They are actually building this kind of an e-commerce platform for food waste, and basically how their platform is working is, so there are, you know, stores, let’s say big kind of food chains, and then they have, you know, let’s say a lot of candies or energy drink or readymade foods that are kind of close to the end date. So they cannot soon sell those in the stores. And there’s a lot of that, and they need to get rid of that one. So they have built an e-commerce platform where B2C customers can buy those products, and they are big in the Finnish market already, and now they are expanding the new markets.
It just opened up, for example, Belgium and Netherlands markets. And that’s really interesting because when they open up that market or those markets, what happens with your employer brand is that in Finland, they are a very well-known brand, and it means that it’s kind of easier to get people joining your company, but when you are opening up a new market, it means that no one knows you.
And over there, the employer branding becomes actually super, super important. So it’s easier to find people. And they were actually one of our first customers and are still a happy customer. And in their case, the use case really was like opening up new markets, hard to get people in, and they really want to get the best possible people, and that’s why they decided to invest in employer branding.
How competitive is SaaS recruiting?
Samuli: It is, it is. What I noticed when we launched TalentBee was that there are, you know, a ton of recruitment agencies out there and tons of employer branding agents out there. And what we noticed is that there were two kinds of agencies. So first, there were a lot of agencies that were doing everything for everyone. So when, whether you are a SaaS company or consultancy or some traditional business, you know, cleaning business or truck driving business or anything like that. There are a lot of agencies that are doing everything for everyone.
And second thing we noticed was that there were kinds of agencies that were specified for certain roles. So, you know, recruitment agencies that were doing only sales recruitments or only technical recruitments. But what we noticed, and actually one of my co-founders used to work as a talent acquisition lead in a SaaS company, and she noticed that there weren’t that many agencies that were focusing only on SaaS.
So kind a recruitment agency, talent acquisition agency that could, like, first of all, understand the SaaS business. Like, hey, when I’m talking about MRR or ARR or, you know, customer lifetime value or be around the funding. Like what, what that means. And then any kind of agencies that could help both with, you know, go-to-market roles and technical roles and then thoroughly on agents that could support both in recruitment and employer branding while a SaaS company is growing to international markets.
And, over there, there wasn’t that much competition. That’s kind of why we chose that focus. So, all in all, the recruitment market is super crowded, but you really need to find focus over there. And I think it goes the same for, you know, every SaaS company out there. Like there really isn’t that much space on, you know, bringing something super new like, hey, marketing automation tool.
No way, but a marketing automation tool focusing only on something. I think that’s the key here.
Starting the company
Samuli: We started the company in August last year, so it’s been eight months. So still, still quite early. We are now five people. So growing. Soon we can hire more people. And so far it seems that customers are happy. I’m buying more, so kind of going towards the right direction.
We are bootstrapped. Most likely, that way. It seems that we are, you know, already cashflow positive and kinda making good money that we can easily invest in growing the company. So, at least for now, kind of continue that way. But we’ll see. It might change at some point, but for now, it seems to be the kind of a good way to go in a profitable way.
I feel like in the current situation, in the, you know, finance market, it’s, I think it’s better to be profitable and maybe grow a little bit slower than, you know, grow super, super fast, but kind of burn a lot of cash while doing it.
Did you find Product-Market-Fit?
Yeah, I would say so. It’s interesting because I think I have multiple discussions with people, like what does product market fit even means? And for different people, it means different things. But for me, and where I look at that one is like, first of all, almost all of our customers are coming through inbound.
We are getting a lot of referrals from our customers, and current customers are buying more. So those three things tell me that we are there, or very close to there.
The 3 strategies TalentBee used for their growth
Samuli: For us, we’ve been investing heavily in the brand. So, we decided actually in the beginning that we don’t wanna be doing cold calls but rather really build the brand, and produce a lot of valuable content. And for us, there’s been three major things that we’ve been investing in.
So, first of all, LinkedIn organic reach. So everyone working at Talent VR is doing love content on LinkedIn, on different forms, text base, video base, all that. The second one is our podcast I’m hosting, which is called #TalentBus. And that is where I interview SaaS founders or SaaS head of people around their talent acquisition.
And it’s good for two reasons. So first, building a brand, but all at the same time, I like inviting people to that show who might actually become a customer someday as well. So that’s, that’s been working extremely well.
And then the third one is events and communities around that. We organized one last week, and now until next week, we are having one big event as well. And I feel that is a super great way to grow as well. And especially if we look at what’s going on on the content side, you know, ChatGPT, lot of folks pushing sign of content on social media. I do believe in that one, but I also believe that kinds of on-site events will be super crucial in the future as well.
Both physical and online events are interesting, and we’ve been testing out both. I think for online ones, actually, you know, webinars are good, but what we’ve been testing lately, for example, is having a community where we go together. You know, once a month, we do a kind of webinar start where we give an intro to the topic, but then we actually discuss the topic together with the participants.
So I feel like that is working better than traditional webinars where people just come to listen for that one.
What do you think was your biggest challenge since starting the company?
Samuli: Yeah, I think there have been two big challenges for us. First of all, everything that’s going on in the market. So, our ideal customer profile they are SaaS companies who have raised funding, and because of that one, they are typically hiring a lot of people, and now that we are seeing what’s going on in the financial market is way harder to raise capital at this stage. A lot of companies are not hiring people; the main reason is that they want to go from growing to being a profitable business. So that has created some challenges.
But still, there are, you know, a lot of companies who are hiring. We are able to grow our team. I have actually new colleagues starting next week in my team because we are full of business. So it’s going good, but we are not able to grow maybe as fast as we could grow in a normal market situation. If you could say it that way. So that’s the first one.
And then I think a second one is that we are also struggling with the same, that our customers are struggling, so to know when to hire a person.
And I think it’s always, you know, finding the balance between growing your revenue and growing your headcount in a good manner. That has been a challenge for sure. We are trying to eat our own medicine over there and, you know, build those talent pipelines, that we do have a lot of recruiters and employer branding, people that we’ve been talking lately, you know, nurturing, having those discussions and, for example, right now, when we needed a person to join our team, we were able to do it super, super quickly because of the fact that we had those talent pipelines.
But I still think that these had been my biggest, biggest challenges: revenue, resourcing new people, and how to find the balance over there.
What is your future vision?
Samuli: We have this goal of five years, 50 people, 5 million in revenue, and that’s basically where we are going towards to. And we have two main goals as a business. The first is to be the best possible workplace for talent acquisition professionals. And that one is, I would say, going quite, quite good for us. Moving to a four-day work week and stuff like that. And the second one is becoming the best possible partner for fast-growing SaaS companies in talent acquisition. So keeping those two in mind, going to our 5 million, trying to do things in a scalable way from the beginning, and going from there.
What is your story, Samuli?
Samuli: Yeah, so actually, before moving to, you know, the commercial side, I actually used to be a chef. That was my dream job as a kid. And I worked in a lot of different restaurants when I was younger. And then, at some point, I noticed I was always fascinated by the business side of the restaurant.
Like, hey, now when we are selling this steak for 25 euros, how much margin do we have there and so forth? So I ended up studying business and working in the real estate and banking industry for a while. I’m from there, sales, sales coaching, sales leadership, and now the CEO and founder of TalentBee.
It was super interesting, and it’s been a super interesting journey because I don’t have a background in the recruitment industry at all. Of course, I’ve recruited people to my sales team before, and so forth. But luckily, my two founders are experts in, you know, talent acquisition, recruitment, and employer branding, and then I try to be the expert in our sales, marketing, and financials, making sure that we are able to grow in a profitable way.
What’s your best piece of advice for starting founders?
Samuli: It’s a good question. I think of two things. First, a topic that we’ve been discussing today: find the right people, your co-founders, your first employees, they have a huge importance on where things are going. And then I would say the second one is regarding your customers. So don’t fall in love with your own idea or your product. But rather, your customer’s rope ends. Interview them like crazy to understand what they are struggling with and then build your product or service around that one.
Positives & negatives SaaS companies do when hiring
Samuli: I think maybe the negative thing is that I feel like a lot of SaaS companies are trying to hire someone who has done it before. I kind of get it, but then at the same time, like what I see every time over there that those people are like in the motivation for the role. And typically, I think SaaS companies should be, of course, you know, you should be hiring for sales. But I think the motivation and the opportunities grow.
Like if you can find someone like that, it’s way, way better. So kinda underestimating that one, I think that’s kind of one bad thing.
And what I think is good and what I feel like a lot of companies are starting to realize, and what I’m super happy about is like a lot of recruitment processes in the past, they were only about the validation of the candidates and their skills. But now I feel like a lot of companies have realized that it shouldn’t be only about validation. It should be a lot about selling your company to the candidate, like why they should be joining your company. And I feel like more and more companies are starting to realize that one, and I’m super happy about that one happening in the market.
When creating a new department, should your first hire an expert?
Samuli: That’s a great, great question. I think, of course, it depends a lot on the situation, but, what I believe in, is that it depends on how fast you are going to grow. For like, let’s use the head of sales example. You are quite beginning a SaaS company, and you are starting to build your quarter market strategy, and you are starting to build your sales team. If you have raised a lot of capital and your plan is to scale the sales team, let’s say to 10 people within a year, then, for sure, I would hire an experienced head of sales who comes there and build a start team.
But if you are hiring a head of sales, but in reality, the role is sales, and you are planning to, okay, let’s test for six and 12 months, and maybe after that, start to gather the sales team, then you are really not looking for a head of sales, you are looking for a salesperson. And in that case, I would really, really go with a salesperson or account executive who has already experience from selling but wants to move towards leading a sales team because still, like, you know, during the first year, it will be most of the time for selling. So I think that comes down to the profile definition – What do you really need?
What are the hiring trends that you see in the future?
Samuli: Yeah, it’s a good question. I actually just interviewed with my colleagues, roughly 50 SaaS companies, around what’s going on in talent acquisition in this market. And I think maybe some interesting learnings from there are… first of all, basically, everyone was reporting that salespeople and senior technical persons are super hard to find. And that’s for sure something that’s going on.
Then, maybe the second one that came down may be more in a way that the job market is about to change. So two things over there are clearly happening. First of all, like revenue operations. That seems to be super hot right now, and still, there are a lot of SaaS companies that don’t have that segment in their business at all.
So I expect actually revenue operations kind of roles will be the next big thing, most likely. Then, the second learning most, I feel like more and more companies were trying to find people for, you know, some particular roles, but kinda understanding of business and understanding of customers is super important.
For example, right now, we are looking for an integrations engineer for one of our customers, but they are actually not looking for that technical person anymore, but someone who can also have the customer-facing role over there. So I feel like understanding of business, understanding of customers is, is coming a lot.
And then maybe lastly, what’s going on in remote work, and what I mean by that is that companies are no longer trying to hire people who can be in the office. So, for example, in a Finnish-based company, the employees don’t need to be in Finland. In a US-based company, the people don’t need to be in the office in San Francisco or New York or everything like that.
And that is changing the market a lot. When you can hire people, let’s say, from lower-paying countries, that is also bringing some challenges for people and companies because, you know, what I like to believe is that, you know, you should be paying your employees based on the value that they are bringing for the business. Correct. But then, at the same time, living expenses, let’s say Romania against New York – a completely different level. So should you actually pay more for the developer sitting in New York than in Romania, for example? And that will be an opportunity for companies, but it will also be a challenge from multiple perspectives, from salaries and running remote teams, different cultures, different time zones, and all that.
So I’m super excited to see what’s gonna happen over there.
What’s your favorite software that you use daily?
Samuli: I think there are multiple ones. You know, I’m still, even though the title says CEO, I’m the sales guy of the company. So HubSpot is something we use a lot. And then maybe another one worth mentioning is Jasper.AI for, you know, content production. And it’s super interesting both for, you know, our own marketing, what’s going on there, as well as recruitment employer branding, like how to create better job ads, or how to send no thank you messages, or how to produce employer branding content utilizing that one. So I think those two are the main ones.
Of course. I think we have… I just went through our software this week, and I think there were like 17 or 18 different SaaS tools that we were using, so a lot of others, as well.
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