During the early stages of TheSquareFoot, the search for our first industry hire as a young startup presented us with several unexpected challenges followed by some valuable lessons. While we are a tech-driven startup, our core industry is commercial real estate, so we knew that we would eventually have to hire someone with brokerage experience: the commission-based real estate broker.

From the start, we knew we wanted to change the way things were being done in real estate, and part of this meant we would be hiring salaried brokers. We knew this would prove to be challenging in an industry where commission-based compensation structures were the norm. We also knew we wanted brokers who would fit in well with our innovation and growth-driven culture, but didn’t realize that sometimes the “perfect candidate” is not always the best fit. We were confident that we could find the ideal person for our team, but we underestimated how much it would take to win the right person over in the end.

The Culture Fit Dilemma

During our hiring process, we were not short on interested candidates for the broker position, but we did have a large cultural problem to overcome. There were many candidates, several of whom had great real estate credentials, but most were not a good cultural fit for TheSquareFoot. It was difficult to pass up on brokers with proven success from some of the largest brokerages, but they just didn’t make sense for a tech-driven startup. These brokers were part of the old, traditional commercial real estate industry, and they didn’t always have the right mindset for what we were looking for. While these highly qualified brokers had stellar backgrounds, we should have focused our attention on adaptable brokers, who during the screening phase, expressed specific detailed interest in working for a startup and having the desire to help grow a brokerage from the ground up and everything that endeavor entails.

Culture Fit Alone Isn’t Enough

We had other candidates who fit our culture perfectly; some were nearly exact replicas of the founders in terms of skills, experience and passion. While it would have been very easy to integrate these types of individuals who had a strong cultural match, we realized that in reality, we needed a candidate who would also be able to bring something new to the company even if it was as simple as utilizing an innovative approach to working with clients. Initially we were looking for a perfect cultural fit but in reality what we needed was someone who could both work well with us and also add unique value to our team. In this instance, we went through another tough lesson: cultural fit is not always the most important factor in hiring and sometimes you have to get outside of your comfort zone to bring on someone that helps you grow quickly.

It’s a Two-Way Sale

A couple of weeks into the hiring process, we found someone we thought was the perfect candidate: tech savvy, charismatic, gregarious and with all the right experience. The candidate met with the team and the founders, and throughout the two-week vetting process, passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, we lost her as she ended up accepting an offer with another company. Had we better listened and positioned the opportunity regarding her desires, instead of pushing our vision, we would have provided her with a much stronger pull to choose us over the other company. The tough lesson we learned here is that the best candidates are in high demand, and it is critical that you position the opportunity in terms of their desires to ensure success, and YOU MUST MOVE QUICKLY.  Speed also matters because good candidates are in such high demand.

During the process of hiring our first broker, we learned three key lessons. One, make sure that qualified candidates from a traditional industry are adaptable. Two, invest time not only in finding culturally fit candidates but also in thinking about how they will add value to the company. Three, position the opportunity in the best possible light to win over the candidate at the last step. Even though we went through tough initial struggles, these learning experiences taught us how to hire smarter and more efficiently which in turn has contributed greatly to our growth today.


This article was written by Justin Lee and Jonathan Wasserstrum from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.