Running a Football Startup Pt 4. Transfers

One common thing I’ve noticed listening to successful CEOs is that they usually say the key to their success is the team they have built around them. It’s very similar in football — it’s hard to build a commercial giant of a football club without having an outstanding team on the pitch.

When people ask me what our biggest risk is, I usually say ‘hiring the wrong people’. That’s because every hire we make, especially in the early days, will have such a huge impact on our chance of success — our team is so small that everyone more or less heads up their own division of the business and has a huge responsibility.

Early this year, we began looking for our first conventional hire. We were after a UX/UI designer to help us improve the visuals and feel of our brand. One of the famous mantras in Silicon Valley is ‘hire slow, fire fast’ — our issue was that we were in desperate need of a designer, especially as we had made a last minute decision to rebrand the company and were working on a tight deadline. We essentially had to pull off something similar to finding a top-quality player in the shortened January transfer window — Liverpool poaching Luis Suarez from Ajax in January 2011 was one of the rare cases of this.

There were five main criteria we were looking for in our hire. Firstly, we wanted someone who would be a good cultural fit. We made sure we’d chosen our six company values before starting the hiring process, so we could use them as hiring criteria. Secondly, we needed someone with the right experience. As a team, we agreed that the skillset we lacked most between ourselves was a visual eye, so strong UI skills were important. We also knew how important intuitive UX would be for an app targeted at kids — simplicity is everything for that demographic. Thirdly, we felt it was important to find someone who was passionate about our product — building a startup is not easy, and often it’s love for the product that gets you through the tough times. Fourthly, we needed someone we could actually afford. As a startup with limited funding, this was always going to be a big hurdle. Lastly, we decided we were going to hire a female — we were a team of four men, all strong proponents of the Women in Tech movement, running a startup that actively promotes gender equality in football. Added to this, 35% of our users are girls. Our male-dominated team didn’t reflect the gender diversity in our community, nor was it in line with our values, and we wanted to correct for that before it got out of hand.

I think startup founders should try as hard as possible to avoid using recruiters in the early days. Recruiters are mainly there to save you time. But, at the beginning, finding the right employees is more important than at any other stage of the business — so it’s time you should be spending. Certain football managers get themselves really involved in their club’s transfer business and I feel that early-stage startup CEOs should adopt that same mentality. For the time being, I see myself not just as the manager, but also as the chief scout. So, we put together a plan to hire a designer within a 1-month window.

The first step was creating a job description that could actually attract the right calibre of candidate. Too many job descriptions look like they are copied and pasted from the internet. So, we spent a lot of time on ours, making sure it explained the many reasons why being the first designer at Flair would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. For example, one frustration of many designers is that they work for companies that don’t truly understand the importance of design. Many established companies have only jumped on the UX bandwagon because it’s the trendy thing to do. For us this wasn’t the case — we highlighted how we needed design to be part of our DNA because kids need intuitive interfaces.

Once the job description was done, we posted it to a few free job boards. University job boards, like the University of the Arts London job board, were great for this. But we knew that recruiting is a two-way street. We couldn’t just rely on designers stumbling upon our job postings. So we upgraded to LinkedIn Premium and started actively searching for UX/UI designers who, on the surface, fit our hiring criteria. In the end, while scrolling through the General Assembly Alumni Page we found Loren, who is now our UX/UI designer. After a couple of interview rounds, it was obvious she had everything we needed. Loren is an ex-startup founder with 8 years graphic design experience, who recently made a mid-career transition into a UX role. She admitted she wasn’t hugely into football, but we decided that wasn’t important. Her passion for our product centred more around the idea of designing something for kids to use. Now, three months into the role, it’s obvious we found a gem.

In the next few months, we’ll be repeating this cycle again, as we search for a back-end developer and Social Media Manager. So if you or someone you may know might be interested in the role, feel free to reach out to me on nii@flairfootball.co.uk.

Next week I’ll be talking about something that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my role — interacting with our users. If you’re interested in following our story, follow me and Flair on Medium.

CEO @ Flair