Vent / Advice: When startup founders say "follow up with me next [week/month]" and then ghost you...

Hi Elphas, Looking for advice, while also taking the opportunity to vent a bit...I'm recruiting for early stage startups (pre-seed - Series A) and have had some great initial conversations with founders. These founders say they want to continue the conversation and specifically ask me to reach back in a week, 2 weeks, month, whatever the timeline may be. When I proceed to do so however, I don't hear back. I know founders are crazy busy, so I'll always follow up a week later, but still nothing. At first, I thought this was a one-off, unfortunate event. But it's now happened to me four times in a row. In case it's helpful, the interactions usually go as follows:I reach out on LinkedIn (not applying to job postings) --> Founder responds and we have a conversation --> Founder says one of 3 things: (1) she (incidentally all have been female founders) is actually in the early stages of hiring for position X; (2) she's not hiring but has a specific project if I'm interested in a side hustle; (3) she's not hiring but wants to stay in touch because she's excited about my background/ interest. --> I send a thank you note within 24 hours of our conversation and note that I'll follow up as discussed at time X --> I follow up --> I follow up again --> Nothing...Am I doing something wrong? Am I being ghosted or do I just need to keep following up...?I'm recruiting for one specific industry, so my outreach and conversations are extremely targeted. I'd be grateful for any advice to move these conversations forward and turn them into concrete opportunities!Thank you!
I just want to comment on a sentence you wrote “Am I doing something wrong?”. In situations like this, in my own opinion, I think it’s very helpful to separate other people’s behavior from yourself. I know it can be hard though.For example, if you separate these people’s behavior from yourself, you might interpret these situations like maybe this person struggles or doesn’t know how to say No, or maybe they are avoidant, don’t know how to communicate properly, or anything else, hence the behavior. You have the power here, a good sense of self, and you can easily move on and keep doing what you are doing because it’s not about you not doing enough or not being good enough. Even if you have things to improve on, it’s not going to be because of them but for you. In the other scenario, if you interpret it as what am I doing wrong that this person doesn’t want to reply me? You then start to think what is it about me that I need to change so I can get what I want from these people? This narrative is more dangerous because it places the outcome on somebody else’s behavior that you don’t have control over.
I wouldn’t take it personally or consider it ghosting... Sounds to me like you don’t have the right criteria in your LinkedIn outreach - if you are reaching out to early stage founders who specifically do NOT have a job post up you’ll need to expect a lot of tumbleweeds. If the startup founder doesn’t have a job ad up, she’s not hiring right now. There’s a lot of work needed at her end before she’s ready to hire for a role - she has to put together cost projections, a full job spec with deliverables, KPIs, assess the persons role in the team structure (eg. who manages them) etc. Of course she will be hiring at some point in the future, which is why she may have been polite enough to ask you to follow up with her at a later date. But expecting her to be ready to hire on your timelines is a bit rude to be honest! She will be juggling a lot of stuff, growing her team is indeed an important part of her startup but you can’t expect her to be ready to hire when you want her to be.So don’t consider it ghosting. When she is ready to hire, she will let you know as long as she remembers you exist. So there’s nothing wrong with a monthly or quarterly email from you with an encouraging message of support, perhaps some useful info on growing a team (eg. a video tutorial on OKR frameworks), and a mention that you’ve got some great candidates in your pipeline for X types of roles whenever she’s ready to hire. Just don’t expect any response from her until she’s ready to hire.Edit 4th May: I thought you are a recruiter from your original post but from reading your replies it seems you are a candidate looking for a job instead? Changes my advice if so :) If you’re looking to break into the startup world, just be as helpful as you can - don’t waste their time with a call to learn more about them, actively look for ways you can add value and show your skills. Examples depending on your niche : put together a QA report showing bugs and a brief for the developers to fix them, bulk create a bunch of social media posts that align with the startups branding, create a UX map or full design of a new feature you think their product needs. In my last startup, someone did this kinda stuff - we didn’t have a role open so I hired her as an intern after she kept sending good work, and she quickly became our head of product, 3 years later she was the COO running the company. In those early stages before we hired her, she proved she was a do-er and had the qualities we wanted in a hire so it made it a no brainer to hire her!
Thanks for your reply. I certainly don't except anyone to hire on my timeliness. I've simply had better luck in the past with making connections prior to hiring. Perhaps my message wasn't well stated. I actually reached out with the intent to learn more about these startups and was then proactively offered by the founders to reach back out because they are / will be hiring. I never -- and absolutely never would -- ask for a job in an outreach call like these.
Olia's profile thumbnail
When working with people you don't really know, treat these email communications as a numbers game. A certain % will always forget to respond, and you will need to chase 100 times. Ask yourself how you can bring that % down, and for this implement A/B testing. Play with your messaging, tweak your strategy a but, see what works.
Think you might need to manage your expectations on this one a little bit. You've approached people who aren't actively hiring. They don't owe you anything. Plus, they are spinning 10000 plates right now (that's the reality of start-ups), and it can create more work to bring on a new person, or they may have found a more pressing fire/project they need to prioritise ahead of the project they spoke to you about. There's no malicious intent here, they are just really busy! You might want to reconsider the start-up niche if this bothers you, because it is the reality. It's going to be the same whether it's female or male founders.
Definitely understand there's no malicious intent, just expressing frustration. Also didn't mean to imply it's a female founder issue -- I only called out that all were female as the reason for using the "she" pronoun. Appreciate your response. I'm confident that the startup niche IS the right fit for me. Getting in is just hard and I just wanted to express that and see if anyone had advice.
iynna's profile thumbnail
THIS THIS THIS! Thank you!
Hey Detra,I’m a startup founder and I have to admit that I am guilty of what you describe. I try as much as possible to follow-up with everything, but to keep mentally healthy I have to choose my battles and let some things fall through the cracks. Just to give you an idea, I receive around 80 emails requiring a follow up per day and at least a dozen per week of potential candidates for jobs (and that exclude the many more request from consultants offering their services).When I actually meet some potential candidates, is because a truly see a potential great fit. And my founder mind love imagining opportunities for great people. However, most often it could be a great fit but not a great moment. As founders we work with most urgent priorities and forget everything else. Also, there is so many things happening in a day, than two weeks later I might not even remember why I was excited during the call. If I can give one advice, it would be to not just follow-up, but also continue to build momentum and excitement. After a fundraising announcement we did we received close to 200 unsolicited applications, many very good ones. The people who really stood out were not the ones who were just following up, but also bringing value while doing it. One person was sharing with me some industry news and event — some really interesting ones. It showed me that she really understood the space, but also that she’s proactive and giving instead of asking. Another came back to me laying out all the ways she think she could help an early stage startup like ours. It showed me that she really understood where we are and where we need to get. Another advise would be to remove all friction to start something. For example, depending on your personal situation and level of motivation, if you are willing to do a small contract with no remuneration that could remove all potential blocker for the founders because there is not risk for them. Most founder prefer working with a small contract first to know the person before doing a hire. And most founders won’t pay for a service now if it’s just the priority in 6 months. During that short time you can build the relationship and most importantly show the value you can bring and how you fit with the culture. During the first call it would be important to understand what are their most pressing pain points. In the follow up you could recap why you are so excited about the business, what value you think you can bring, and offer to achieve a specific deliverable related to one of their most pressing pain point in a specific period of time. If you are confortable with that, you can also say that you main motivation to start building the relationship with them is not the money, and that you are willing to do a first collaboration without remuneration. I guarantee you that you will instantly stand out.
vcase's profile thumbnail
I’m a founder as well and completely agree with the above. Could not have said it better. Also, please keep in mind that on some level founders are in a similar position as you described, but on the other end with fundraising. The last thing I personally want to do is over promise and under deliver in any situation. Casual contacts, new business partnerships and/or our clients. Also, please keep in mind that LinkedIn is helpful, but not the most beneficial. My LinkedIn inbox is full of messages asking of my time or offering a service that actually has nothing to do with my company. The more you can be helpful, thoughtful, and bring a value add in whatever form is amazing. Founders are actually advised to do the same in our reach outs as well. Finally, the last thing a founder wants to do is hire for a roll that they do not need at the moment. Runway is always a numbers game. If you are starting at the pre-seed stage, note that most female founders have not historically been given the same fundraising access as their male counterparts. At that stage many are self-funded or have small angels. To make a full hire really might be impossible at the moment. Most contract out work to get their company to the seed stage. Depending on the size of the seed round, it’s also might be a small team with contact work as well. Best advice is to look for founders who state they are hiring. If industrious enough, follow who just announced their latest raise. Crunchbase is helpful for that. I personally try to answer all forms of communications, but these days with so many platforms it is hard to keep up if it is not a pressing matter. Best of luck and honestly I understand the frustration. Been there before 🤦🏻‍♀️
BEBarrett's profile thumbnail
Hi! Echoing the other founders here. I think it is great that you are taking the initiative to reach out! That said, some how we got on some list somewhere in in the past three months I've been spammed with connection requests on LinkedIn and inbox messages trying to sell me on something we don't need right now and, and, and... I actually put up a note on my LinkedIn stating that I'm intensely focused on xyz for the next three months and if you're not reaching out on that, you won't hear back from me. If you want to stay on a particular founder's/company's radar, I would send them something that you think shows how you can be valuable to them in helping them reach their goals. It could be a link to an article or tool that is legit helpful to them, offering a connection to someone you know well that would be willing to help them with a specific need, or just a word of encouragement as others have suggested saying, "I love what you're doing, especially x, and I just wanted to send you some encouragement because I know the early days are hard! I'll follow-up with you in a few months because I want to stay in your radar when you're ready to hire. No need to respond if you're not, but I'll keep saying hi as a friendly reminder."
vanessavw's profile thumbnail
Hi @detra39 as a few people said below, it's just not always possible to be as polite as we'd like to be when we're also balancing running a company, a family and mental health as @vcase mentioned. I try to follow up as much as I can, but am focused on scaling and fundraising and get maybe 15 emails a day of contractors trying to sell me some service. While I'm focused on growing my companies and hiring key roles, we're also fundraising which makes hiring contingent on that. So when recruiters are following up but we have to say "not yet, not yet, not yet" it's a reminder of the fundraising journey that we're on. And getting the "get 6 months traction and come back" or "I'll fund series A when it's time" and also getting ghosted from VC's, it's almost a food chain sort of situation where we can't hire and spread the love until the love flows from the top down! $$$ ;)
vcase's profile thumbnail
Very true. I’ve had some “amazing” VC’s ghost me after telling me how much they want to invest. It is a food chain situation.
vanessavw's profile thumbnail
@vcase yep, someone needs to make a moviethat’s a VC’s version of “He’s just not that into you” to save everyone time & energy 😂 in the fundraising dating world.
vcase's profile thumbnail
😂🤩 might be help the next romcom upswing stay relevant @vanessavw good call!! I’d watch that!