What if we told you Ramp becoming one of fastest growing SaaS companies ever was 100% intentional (designed & executed)? For context: Ramp launched in 2020 and hit $100M in revenue in 2022. Ramp optimized for velocity, and worked backwards from there to shape all aspects of their company building. In this article specifically, we’ll be focusing on how they approached hiring.
What you are (or should be) interested in is how should you hire if you want to maximize for velocity? and what can we learn from Ramp’s approach? Here we’ll surface insights and actionable strategies on how you can build your team so that you can also design ‘rapid growth’.
More often than not, it seems that young, fast-growing companies open and hire roles simply for the sake of it. Startups know they need engineering, sales, CX, marketing, etc but when you work back from fundamentals: what kind of company do you want to build? how quickly are you trying to grow? what will push the business forward? Some hires may not be justified or you might change the way you think about what kind of people you should be hiring.
It’s easy for a startup to get the typical characteristics right, e.g. curiosity, drive, obsession with the product etc but it’s more challenging to think deeply about specific company needs and goals. Hiring intentionally seems to be forgotten in the excitement and rush that comes with building a company.
The founders of Ramp Eric, Karim, and Gene’s, method for building the foundation was centered around product development, product market fit, and how that all relates to the overall business goals. Product goals equal business goals and that directly relates to how the company would then move forward with hiring efforts. Ramp’s approach has been mapping out how each and every team would connect to and impact those product and business goals while keeping the lines fluid dependent on those business needs.
How can sales be connected to product? How can product properly collaborate with engineering? How can we ensure engineering is building what our customers need? And all of the other crucial teams that help make up the organizational web. Managing these teams to ensure that fluidity and continued success all comes down to hiring, coaching, and continued development which then blends into the constant theme of velocity and has ultimately created what’s might feel like overnight success.
To optimize for velocity, Ramp focused on a few key things: early talent, extremely high-bar for excellence, specifically doubling down on successful teams, and hiring IC’s more than managers. These four approaches are all intertwined to some extent - without one, the other wouldn’t work.
1. Hire for Slope, not Y-intercept. If you are a startup, you don’t know how things will change just tomorrow, so what’s the point of over-indexing on existing knowledge/expertise? Sure there are some positions (e.g. head of sales to scale team of AE & SDRs) where you might want to evaluate prior experience more, but for most cases this is not true. Ramp was known to hire a lot of candidates who were very junior (1-5 YOE) that scored extremely high on aptitude + ambition - some of my friends were even asked to drop out of college! The high performers were then promoted extremely fast and were given a ton of ownership. I believe there were even tech leads 2-3 years out of college. For a startup, essentially how fast one learns is a lot more important than what one might already know.
2. Only the best get to interview. The Ramp team puts a big emphasis on making sure only the highest performers in the org interviews potential candidates. That way, their high bar for excellence shows during interviews and when making hiring decisions. While they’re looking for the best employees, they’re also creating the best interviewers (it’s a bit of a network effect really). They are getting their best performers to shape the future of the company. Ramp meticulously prepares it’s interviewers and hiring teams to align with the overall mission and vision of the company.
3. Double down on top performing teams. Making sure new hires join top performing teams is a great way to set them up for success. There are many studies that show there is a strong correlation between how the first few weeks go and long term employee performance & retention. New hires will also feel what ‘good’ looks like if they are surrounded by top performers. It’s also much easier to transfer between teams after the candidate is already bought into the company and this is a great way to create interesting promotion tracks and nurture future leaders in the
4. Bringing on a player coach vs. just a coach. For their size, Ramp doesn’t have too many managers. Instead of managers who have been so far removed from the day-to-day, they hire strong ICs who are extremely hands on and can be a great leader if they wanted to. These are individuals who embody the player coach mentality. As Steve Jobs famously said, ‘the best managers are the great individual contributors who never ever want to be a manager, but decide they have to be a manager because no on else is going to be able to do a good a job as them’. These player coaches can quickly hire more players and scale what they are doing while also leading them on the pitch.
To top this off, the 3 founders, to this day, have eyes on every interview process that takes place and every offer that goes out, ensuring the attributes and characteristics that they believe are what is the right match for Ramp is being met (this is why we’re bullish on founder-led companies).
To replicate this approach to hiring, companies should look back at their own goals, both product and business, and see what specific qualities they need to see to hit those targets. For a startup, it’s never a bad idea to optimize for velocity.
Here are some startups that are growing fast that we think, are approaching hiring right: https://www.paraform.com/customers