The head of marketing for a UK urban-gardening startup explains how strong brand recognition helps him grow his team

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Franky Athill - Patch Plants UK

  • A startup's brand can be one of the most valuable assets for growing its team.
  • "People want to work for a cool, exciting company that they've heard of," said Franky Athill, the head of marketing for Patch Plants, a popular urban gardening startup in London.
  • Athill was Patch's fourth team member, and it has since added more than 40 others.
  • He shared his advice with Business Insider about two key things to remember when it's time to add talent to your startup.
  • This article is part of a series on growing a small business, called "From 1 to 100."
The search for talent presents a significant challenge for many startups, and the ability to recruit the best people is one of the most critical factors for success.Advertisement

Startups with strong brand engagement can have an advantage in this respect by reaching a wider field of potential hires.

Franky Athill does exactly that as the head of marketing for Patch Plants, a popular London urban-gardening startup that he has helped grow from four to 45 team members since 2017.

The idea for Patch came about when founder Freddie Blackett was looking for a better way to keep his houseplants alive on the balcony of his girlfriend's apartment, and he discovered that many other would-be green thumbs in the city shared the same frustration.
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After Blackett spent a few years refining the idea in a startup incubator, Athill joined Patch as the fourth employee.

Up to that point, Athill's career included stints with several other marketing outfits, most notably with famed fashion photographer Mario Testino, whose digital operation he set up and built to 2.8 million subscribers. Athill spoke with Business Insider about how he uses his marketing channels as a recruiting tool to grow the Patch team.Advertisement

Use your brand engagement to reach potential hires

Over the past three years, Athill has overseen the growth of the brand's social reach to more than 200,000 Londoners. Over the same period, he said, daily sales have gone from just 10 to 1,000.

That pool of social followers is also where he has sourced the 40-plus new members of his team.

While a gardening startup may not have the glitz and glamour of a Testino photo shoot, Athill says Patch's brand engagement is strong. After all, growing your team isn't simply about finding more people, it's about finding the right ones.Advertisement

"That has helped us a huge amount because it means that we've been able to hire really good people through our own networks and through our own marketing channels."

Generating engagement and excitement for your brand is vital for a startup, Athill says, and not only because it drives sales.

"Without it, it's very hard to compete in the job space for the very best people," he said. "They want to work for a cool, exciting company that they've heard of."Advertisement

It all comes down to a numbers game for Athill, who said that reaching a wider audience improves the odds that he will find a good fit to join the team.

Get help from a pro to filter your prospects

Once you've amassed a sizable applicant pool, Athill recommended that early-stage startups outsource the screening process to a recruiter as they grow beyond 10 people or so.

"A good recruiter can pay back their weight in gold," he said. "Use your digital marketing skills and brand to fill a huge funnel [of applicants], and get [the recruiter] to assess that funnel."Advertisement

Having an independent perspective can help you save your energy and attention for the most promising candidates.

"Don't let yourself get in a position where you're going into interviews hoping that the person is great, because then you've left it too late, and now you're under a lot of pressure to fill that seat," Athill said. And there can be a real cost to making a bad match, especially if one of the core leadership has to find a replacement for a new hire that didn't work out.Advertisement

"If one person is focused on hiring for a week, that's a very big distraction. So I would avoid doing that," Athill said.

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