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Creative Alignments was founded by Peggy Shell in 2010, with the belief that recruiting needed a better alternative. Since then, they’ve become a valued partner to emerging brands in the food industry, offering a time-based model that aligns with growth goals and brings flexibility and affordability to startups that need to build expert teams. In advance of FoodBytes! NYC, where Creative Alignments will be a first-time sponsor, we talked to Peggy about Creative Alignments’ approach and the importance of building relationships with the brands they work with.
Creative Alignments specializes in recruiting for the food, tech, professional services and manufacturing industries. Can you tell us more about how you work with emgering food companies specifically?
Emerging brands in the food space are radically rethinking how products are developed, packaged and distributed. Take our clients RXBAR, HaloTop and Bhakti for example; they’re disruptors who push the boundaries and skip tradition in favor of finding a better alternative.
Creative Alignments works the same way, disrupting recruiting with a more efficient and effective way to find great talent for fast-growing food companies. We don’t believe the traditional recruiting model of expensive commissions and contingency fees is best for clients, so instead, we offer a time-based model that simply charges for the time it takes to hire great employees. As a model, it’s much more affordable for quickly-scaling, small to mid-sized companies and because we’re not motivated by commissions, we’re able to align closely with our clients as a flexible recruiting partner.
Many small food companies are squeezed for time, and often have little or no experience with recruiting, so finding a partner that comes with industry knowledge and experience is important. We have the expertise and experience to help shepherd businesses through their growth phases.
Our collaborative team of veteran food recruiters are ahead of industry trends and understand the nuances of things like category, channels and different manufacturing models. We help growing food companies around the world hire at all levels and functions. That includes companies like, Wild Tonic, NextFoods/GoodBelly, The a2 Milk Company and Vital Farms, all of which have benefited from our innovative model and joint approach.
Founding a food startup can be lonely, and hiring is a major pain point for many founders. What are your top tips for early-stage founders when it comes to hiring?
Take the time to hire well the first time. The cost of a bad hire is too high.
Prioritize getting the right people in the right seats. Small food startups are moving fast and each hire needs to be the right one at the right time to maximize market opportunity. It’s often hard to know whom to hire first because so much is needed at once. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of hiring people who fall in your lap. Instead of hiring your sister-in-law’s cousin who’s looking for a job, have a clear hiring strategy and actively seek out the experts who know more than the founder in their specific domains. Then sell them on your company and the opportunity.
Carry out a solid vetting process and make sure they are the right fit
Background and reference checks are critical steps that cannot be overlooked or rushed. A bad hire can cost a company a lot more than money, particularly for a startup that’s working hard to gain traction in the food market.
Pick the right partners in the early stages
Aligning your business with the right partners from the outset is imperative. Regardless of their role, you want partners who are great at what they do, have industry expertise, are honest, and willing to take the time to understand who you are as a company and what your goals are. When a partner has a stake in what makes you different and what you’re trying to achieve, they’re better able to be a true partner and help you succeed.
Build a strong, unique brand
Your brand is your foundation. To thrive in this fast-moving, innovative industry it must be distinct and stand out in all the right ways. The clients I mentioned previously, RXBAR, HaloTop and Bhakti Chai managed their brands exceptionally well from the get-go, leveraging customer loyalty to drive growth and success.
A strong brand is obviously important for food consumers and investors; less obvious is its value as a tool for recruiting employees. Candidates are drawn to positive buzz and energy. To capitalize on that, we aim to attract employees who are overqualified and willing to take the leap with a startup, because they see the potential and want to get on board early.
How does your Time-Based Recruiting™ model work and how do you think it benefits startup clients?
Our Time-Based Recruiting™ model avoids expensive commissions. Instead, we simply charge for the time it takes us to recruit your new talent. This pay-for-effort model means clients only pay for a few hours for positions that are quick to fill. If the hire takes more work, they understandably pay more, but overall, the model is more affordable, often significantly so.
Instead of charging the traditional 20-30% of each hire’s first-year salary, our costs are generally closer to the equivalent of 8-10%. And, if we recruit for one position, we offer the client access to all the other candidates they’ve talked to, so there’s good efficiency of scale.
To marry the right candidates with the right roles, we work through our proprietary candidate database or search externally. We present candidates to clients honestly, never making them look better than they are or pushing them for a role that might not be a good fit, just to seal a fee.
Our Time-Based Recruiting™ model allows us to be flexible and scale to meet client’s changing needs. That might mean working on parts of a search or managing the whole thing. We can ramp up quickly for clients who need to hire a lot of people at once, or work on a few hires throughout the year. Adaptability is key and hugely valuable for companies that grow quickly with a new round of funding and then taper off for a time.
Above all, we’re motivated to do a great job, build long-term relationships and help companies grow. With HaloTop, we hired 67 people at every level of the business in one year. As a collaborative partner, we helped grow their team to catapult the company to become the highest grossing ice cream brand, surpassing giants like Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s. We also saved them nearly $700,000 in recruiting fees because they were able to pay 6% of the equivalent first year salary, rather than the traditional 20%.
What hiring trends are you seeing in the food space?
Startups have had to become more creative when hiring candidates from large CPG companies, with high salaries. If a new business plans to scale quickly, employees with big company experience can be a great asset, because they come with an understanding of structure and what the business needs to operate well. Attracting and recruiting that kind of talent can take more than money, so it’s worth thinking about what your full package will look like.
Candidates on the move are paying more attention to who is backing companies too, and that’s important for startups. An unknown brand with no funding may not be as enticing as one with investment and the vote of confidence that private equity or venture capital support can bring. The food space is seeing such an increase in exits, like the tech industry, that sale potential is also influencing employees’ decisions, with prospective employees now more focused on equity as part of their compensation package.
The priority functions in small companies are also going through some change with many companies reversing the more typical order of distribution, then branding. Indeed, some of our most disruptive clients have created strong brands and customer loyalty through grassroots marketing and social media before focusing on widening their distribution. Companies are also manufacturing their own products less, putting more focus on sales and marketing hires.
A tight job market is impacting recruiting and retention too, putting employees in a strong position. Experienced candidates are getting multiple job offers and can afford to make decisions at the last minute. Companies that know what they want and go after it with a competitive offer can attract top quality employees, while companies that drag their feet and are less sure about what they want, will inevitably lose out.
Fundraising and hiring often go hand in hand, and entrepreneurs can feel pressure to expand their teams quickly to grow their businesses. What challenges do startups face on this front, and how can they overcome them?
Have patience and hire well from the start. Pressure to hire quickly can lead to skipping some of the critical steps mentioned before, like a considered hiring strategy and vetting candidates before you hire them. Take the time to find the people you want to represent your brand and dig deeper into their experience and skills. It’s important to follow through on background checks and contact references to make sure you’re getting the right person, in the right role for your company.
So many food companies feel like they need to rush to build fast and sell quickly, but this often backfires. Smart hires can take time and you can always fill roles temporarily with freelancers or contractors, until you find the people you want long-term.
In our experience if you build strong foundations, growth will follow.
Startups are notoriously busy and it can feel like everything is a priority at times but recruiting and retention must be at the top of the list. By putting an end-to-end recruiting process in place and being clear about what you need and what you can live without, you can be more focused and reach your end goals more effectively.
It’s good to avoid getting distracted by superficial impressions, like an exciting line item on a resume and we always recommend thinking about the process from the candidate’s perspective. What kind of experience will they have? What impression do you want to leave? Remember, you’re building a brand so personal experience counts at every stage.
If you are working with a recruiting company, be clear about the need to present candidates honestly. I touched on that before, but it’s so important to make sure you’re not being sold talent that’s packaged to look better than it really is.
What inspired you to become part of the FoodBytes! family and how do you think the collaboration will help your business?
We attended FoodBytes! Montreal and were so impressed by the feeling of community, quality of attendees and pitch companies and the meaningful conversations we had. FoodBytes! has proven they can bring the best entrepreneurs, investors and mentors together and work collaboratively to improve the future of food. Like FoodBytes! and the passionate, innovative people it attracts, we want to support companies that are creating disruptive products and services to help improve our world.
Creative Alignments is a match maker, helping emerging brands find the employees who will allow them grow and succeed. We offer startup clients a better way to recruit and better results, and because the process is easier and more affordable, emerging brands can get the expertise they need with the collaboration of a true partner.
PSA: San Francisco Applications are open – Apply today!