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Hiring at Tiqets: Building the team behind the fastest-growing Dutch startup

Last month, Tiqets was crowned the fastest-growing startup in the Netherlands by The Next Web and Adyen. To those who have kept an eye on this mobile ticketing platform, the news came with little surprise. Since its starting point, Tiqets has made very conscious and astute choices in business as well as in people. Tiqets’ impressive growth is its biggest validation. From 2014 to 2016, Tiqets has grown more than 3500%. They now operate with 40 FTE (full-time employees) and have a total of $5.5 million in funding.

What kind of team in the world can achieve this much growth? In the following interview, Stephanie de Booij, HR Manager at Tiqets, shares with us the secrets of hiring at Tiqets: finding the best people who drive Tiqets’ burgeoning business. Some key points:

  • Having a structured hiring process is key;
  • Happy employees make the best referrals;
  • Be open and honest to candidates;
  • Pinpoint cultural differences via assessments;
  • As well as two superb hiring tips for fast-growing startups!

Useful links from the interview

The interview

This interview with Stephanie de Booij on hiring at Tiqets was conducted and condensed by Hagi Trinh and Melanie van der Storm of Recruitee.

Hagi Trinh: Congratulations on being the fastest-growing startup in the Netherlands!

Stephanie de Booij: Thank you!

Hagi Trinh: Did it come as a surprise for you guys?

Stephanie de Booij: For sure! Of course! There are a lot of good startups in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam. It was a big surprise. As you know, we started in 2014. I was there from the beginning, and we had only four people working for us. Within two years, we’ve had 65 people. We’re very proud of that. But still, we’re Dutch. We’re not that posey about it.

Hagi Trinh: We see that you have a lot of job openings now. What is your goal by the end of this year?

Stephanie de Booij: By the end of this year, I think we will have 85 people working for us; but not only in the Netherlands. We have three people in Spain already, one in Paris, one in London, one in Vienna, and one in Rome. So we’re expanding outside the Netherlands.

Having a structured hiring process is key.

Hagi Trinh: Could you walk me through your typical hiring process?

Stephanie de Booij: We’re still evaluating our process because we’re quite new. In the beginning, we just used Gmail and pasted them on maps. It doesn’t work like this anymore, of course. Because we’re well-known in the industry, people come to us. If I put out vacancies – it depends on the jobs – sometimes 130 people apply per position. So it doesn’t work with Gmail and maps anymore. We were looking for a tool that was going to help us with processing the candidates. I came out with a few of those tools and tried Recruitee by the end. Now we’ve worked with it for eight months.

So what do we do? First, we make up job openings and put them online on several job boards. When people apply, Recruitee helps us with sending general emails like “Thanks for your application. Within two weeks you will receive our feedback.” I used to do that all manually before. Copy-paste, copy-paste. It doesn’t work. I’m happy with tools like Recruitee that help us with that. When this is ready, we decide per job which people are going to be involved in the recruitment process. With key positions, you want one or two key members to join. Also depending on the jobs we have, we can do recruitment assessment.

Then I have phone conversations with people to see if they could be suitable based on a few points. Then I swipe them to the hiring manager and say: “Hey, these are four candidates. I think they could be suitable.” We then have a phone call via Skype together to see if the candidates really match the profiles. If that’s the case, then nine out of ten times, we invite one or two people to Amsterdam. We book flights for them and arrange if they need a hotel. They’ll have meetings here at the office for the assessment with me, two team members, and one person who comes out of the field.

After that, we decide within the management team if we’re going to hire him or her. If so, I will make sure that the person has a contract according to the law in the different countries they would work in. We really hire them according to the legislation of those countries. It takes a lot of time to establish that, for example, in Spain or France. The process takes about – depending on the vacancy – maximum six weeks from A to Z. Maybe four, or it could be a bit longer. But we want to do it as speedily as possible. Because there are a lot of good people right now on the market and the economy is attracting.

Melanie van der Storm: How many job boards do you normally use when you look for candidates?

Stephanie de Booij: When I look at Recruitee, I always click the free job boards. A lot of times, nine out of ten people we hire via LinkedIn or via our own network. For us, LinkedIn and our network work the best.

Happy employees make the best referrals!

Hagi Trinh: That’s what we heard a lot as well.

Stephanie de Booij: If we look at developers, for instance, they used to work with a lot of different developers. They have colleagues. It works best when you have a developer working for you and they could be your ambassador. If the developer is very happy at a company, he’s going to tell his friends and former colleagues about you for sure. A lot of developers know each others already. You have to make sure that your employees are the ambassadors of the company. That’s the first thing I’ve learned. If people are really comfortable and happy with working with us – not only for the salary but just because they find it very nice to work here – and as long as we have that, that could be the nicest referral for our company.

Hagi Trinh: Do you have a program or a detailed plan to make employees happy?

Stephanie de Booij: No. We believe that we can have a whole handbook of “How you can pamper your employees,” but the best thing of how it works is that when people are happy, they’re going to organize it themselves. So we have football matches. We have pizza and beer section. We have Friday evening drinks. We have all that stuff and everything comes out of the employees. We can say from above: “Hey, next week we have to do this and everybody has to join.” But it isn’t always going to work. There are a lot of people who just like to organize things for the company. And if you join, you join. If you don’t, it’s fine as well. And we lunch together. That’s also important. Lunch is paid; we have healthy lunch. I think they just like it to have a talk with each other and it’s open space. CEO, HR, technical people in product and development – everybody sits together. That’s the most important thing.

Hagi Trinh: Nice! So currently how many people are there in the hiring team?

Stephanie de Booij: Two! Me and Serumi. She’s going to replace me during my maternity leave in four weeks. We’re looking now for an HR assistant and then an HR advisor. Because I can’t do it all by myself anymore.

Hagi Trinh: Now it’s just you managing around 100 candidates per job? You don’t work with external recruiters?

Stephanie de Booij: No agencies.

Hagi Trinh: That’s a lot of work.

Stephanie de Booij: Yeah, that’s a lot of work. Everybody works hard here. Just work hard, play hard. That’s what they say. We don’t use recruiting companies. Of course, we could do that, because we didn’t have enough resources to hire all those people all the time. But then we just wait a few weeks, or we speed up some other things, or we let other people down. I prefer that instead of hiring an agency that is going to tell our story. If people come here, they can see it for themselves and we’re the best in telling our stories. I think that works better than hiring an agency. Of course, we get called a lot of times. But no, here we use our own resources.

Hagi Trinh: I can see through your growth that it works. I’d like to know what is the one thing that contributes significantly to your hiring success so far?

Stephanie de Booij: It’s hard to say what it exactly is. We have a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 57 from employees. Really high.

Hagi Trinh: Yes, anything above 50 is excellent.

Be open and honest to candidates.

Stephanie de Booij: Also our customers give the same score of 57. We’re quite successful. I don’t really know what it is. But I have the feeling, and people tell me, that it really feels like a family. It is pretty strange, though, but we really care for each other. We’ve hired a few people outside the Netherlands and they’re staying there. Still they have the feeling that they are really part of the team. Because we take them over to the Netherlands sometimes to meet everybody, we have close contact via Skype. Also, because it’s a flat organization.

Hagi Trinh: During the phone calls or interviews, how do you already impress the candidates?

Stephanie de Booij: I’m just honest to people. If I have the feeling that they are a fit or they are not honest to me, I will tell. Also I’m not going to tell them fairy tales like: “You can come with us and earn 100k euros and you don’t have to do anything for that.” I’m not going to say that. I’m being honest and normal to them, but not that formal. Then they feel that they can share things with me as well. As long as you’re honest and nice and friendly to people, not just as if you’re friendly, but really friendly, then you will get that back as well. That’s my idea.

Hagi Trinh: That’s really cool. What happens so often is that employers promise things they don’t have, and candidates try to boast about what they don’t have.

Stephanie de Booij: There is a time I say: “Ok, we’re a startup company and we’re going to hire you to work in Spain. Here is the letter of employment. This is what you can expect. Maybe a week or two weeks after you start, you will receive your actual contract. But trust me, this is what we agreed on, so it’s going to happen. It’s just not going to happen as a machine immediately.” And people respect that. They’re happy with honesty and they can always email me, WhatsApp me, or send me a message, and I will help us send them a message back. I think it has to do with being really open to people.

Hagi Trinh: Is that something that you already knew since you start, or is that something you’ve learned along the way?

Stephanie de Booij: This is what I feel the most comfortable with. So you will not find me in a formal organization where this is not a standard. But of course, you learn. In the beginning, when I was hiring the first person outside the Netherlands, I had no idea. I thought that I knew what we’re looking for. But you just have to wait and see if that person is going to present Tiqets, for instance, in France. You don’t know. So of course, you can make a mis-hire. That’s possible. But from your mis-hire, you learn. Also with hiring more and more people, we create a certain identity together. It just happens. When you have some people, you know a bit more if the newcomer is going to fit in the organization or not. That becomes more and more important besides the hard skills that people are bringing. Of course, if you can’t program, you can’t work in the development team. But if you can program a bit and it could be better, and you have a nice personality, I believe that is more valuable than the other way around. I really believe that. Because in the end, you can learn a lot. But if you’re not nice to work with, you won’t change that easily.

Pinpoint cultural differences via assessments.

Melanie van der Storm: Are there any hiring tactics that you use now that you didn’t use before?

Stephanie de Booij: In the beginning, we didn’t use an assessment tool. But when you hire someone outside the Netherlands, there are different cultures coming in place. The Dutch culture is completely different from the Spanish or Italian culture. You have to see things in perspective. For instance, when you say: “I’m a hard worker,” that has such a big difference when you say that in the Netherlands or when you say that in Italy. Therefore, we want to use an assessment tool that says whether somebody is a hard worker, that should already take into consideration all the other people in Italy. It really makes the difference. Also, it’s just what kind of personality we’re dealing with. People can be so friendly and honest and nice, but in the end, that isn’t the case. It also has to do with cultures. The assessment is really helpful for us when we’re hiring people outside the Netherlands. Other things that we’ve learned: Not only trust your own feeling, but really see what other people from the company think. If I and my hiring manager are positive, but some people say: “Oh ok, but this may not be a real fit for Tiqets,” then we can discuss and together we decide if the person is going to be hired or not.

Hagi Trinh: So that’s why you have many members in the interview. Could you share what type of assessment you do?

Stephanie de Booij: We’re doing a personality assessment. It’s an assessment that doesn’t have anything to do with a certain job. It just says what your personal preferences are. Then you can look into what kinds of skills are needed for the job. I believe that anybody can do anything under certain circumstances. But for you, maybe it will take more energy to plan and organize than for me, or the other way around. Because this is what you really like to do, or I don’t like to and it takes me more energy. So we just have to see if we have a profile, let’s say, Sales Manager, what are the high priorities for this position? Then we look at the person and say: “Ok, there are some matches and mismatches. We’re going to see what the mismatches really are by having an interview about those differences.” That’s how we do it.

Hagi Trinh: Do you also do trials?

Stephanie de Booij: Yes, it depends on the job. For technical jobs, product and development roles, we do assignments. Also for marketing positions. We’re giving them assignments with data from our company. There is no right or wrong. It’s just to see how they think, how they are going to work on this thesis. Then they are allowed to present it to a few team members in a meeting room to show “Ok, I have chosen this decision for this and this reason.” We just need to see how they think and there is room for discussion. I think it’s really good for the employees and for the new hires.

Two superb hiring tips for fast-growing startups:

Hagi Trinh: To get an idea of what kinds of problems the company is having and they will work on. Really nice! Do you have other tips and advice for hiring, especially in such a fast-growing company?

Stephanie de Booij: Well for sure, use a recruitment tool. I’ve spoken to a lot of startup companies, and they asked: “How did you do this?” Then I said: “It’s not that hard, you know.” If you use a recruitment tool, it’s going to help you a lot. You want to be polite and personal to people, so you want to give a response to everybody. You need a recruitment tool to do that in order to make sure that you have some spare time to focus on some other things. That’s the first step and it’s not that expensive. People always think that it’s expensive to use tools and they’ll just use their Gmail accounts. But it’s not expensive and if you’re on holiday, someone else can take it over from you and they can just use Recruitee. That’s the first advice I’d give.

Second advice is about when you’re a startup company, you might get lost in what you’re really looking for. Because you’re new, nobody knows you, so they can be better working for other established companies. When someone says: “Ah, I want to work for you,” then you are tempted to just hire that person. But you don’t really know if the person is going to fit in your organization. A bad hire in a small company has a huge impact. It’s better to wait than just hiring someone. I’ve spoken to a lot of startups, they just don’t have a clear idea of what they’re standing for, what they’re looking for. They just hire someone because they think: “Oh, I have a friend, he is a smart guy, so he can work for me.” But sometimes it just isn’t the right decision for the company. You need to brainstorm together with a few other people to see what you’re really looking for. That’s important.

Hagi Trinh: Thank you so much Stephanie, for joining us!

Final thoughts

We would like to thank Stephanie de Booij for sharing such nice hiring insights with us! What works well for hiring at Tiqets, that others often ignore, is their appreciation for honesty and efficiency. They know who they need, they say what they mean to candidates, and they use tools to manage candidates properly. Sounds simple, but Tiqets is amongst a few companies that have done it properly. Now, the Tiqets team has propelled the company to the top rank of startup companies in the Netherlands. We can’t wait to see how much they grow in the future!

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