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Onboarding at Startups

This onboarding guide will give your company the basic tools to get new employees set up for success on day one and throughout their entire tenure.
For some people, starting a new job can be compared to getting off a plane in a foreign country with no map, no one to greet you, and no translation tools available. Sound scary?
If you’ve experienced something like this on your first day at work, it’s safe to say your company wasn’t equipped with an onboarding plan. Most startups are so busy growing the business and building product, when a new hire shows up on day one, it can be frenetic. We’ve heard stories of people not having a chair, desk or computer set up, the hiring manager not being in the office and the start date being mixed up.
This Onboarding Guide will give your company the basic tools to get new employees set up for success on day one and throughout their entire tenure. Onboarding is not a finite experience. It’s the employee’s entire journey to gain the knowledge, skills, and behavior to be an informed member of a company’s community.

What does onboarding mean?

Onboarding refers to the mechanism through which new acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Why does every company need a “new hire” onboarding plan?

Onboarding matters. In 2023, Fortune did a which revealed that 80% of employees who did not experience a positive onboarding process plan to quit.
New employees need guidance regarding how to navigate within a company (the best ways to communicate internally, company policies and procedures, etc.). If an employee doesn’t know these basics, it will be hard to get sh*t done.
Every employee needs to understand where she fits into the larger company culture and how she can make an impact. If done correctly, the onboarding experience will provide each employee with a figurative “map” for where she fits into the larger company.
Every company should want a new employee to feel welcome. This leads to a sense of belonging and helps foster collaboration. Employees who feel welcome and who have a sense of belonging also tend to be more productive. We know this from .
Companies don’t get a second chance to make a first impression with a new employee. If your first day at a company starts with your hiring manager not being in the office and your computer not being ready, you may have doubts about the “employee experience” and culture in general. What will you tell your peers about your 1st day experience? Would you want to refer an executive to the company? Would you refer a customer?

Who owns onboarding?

This will change according to what stage the company is at and if there is a designated HR point person or recruiter.

Seed Stage

For early stage companies, the founder/CEO is the appropriate person to lead onboarding. This is usually the person who gave the employee the offer in the first place.

Series A/B/C

Once a recruiter or HR manager is hired, this person can take over onboarding activities.

Later Stage

Further down the road, when the company grows to several hundred employees, the company may designate an “onboarding specialist.” This person works closely with the recruiting team as well as the human resources team to make employee onboarding seamless.

Best Practices for Onboarding

Start Time

New hires don’t need to start on Monday at 9am. In fact, starting on a Monday at 9am is probably not the best idea. We’ve seen new hires show up when their boss (who is supposed to do the meet and greet) isn’t there yet. Some companies have new hires start on Tuesday or Friday around 10:30am. New hires will be spending most of their day filling out paperwork, going to orientation and meeting their team so why not do it on a day when people are a bit more relaxed and well prepared.
From an existing employee perspective, onboarding is a time commitment. Be sensitive to the fact that certain times of the day/week may not be the most convenient for current team members to welcome someone new to your company.
Make sure the new hire is greeted by someone (could be the hiring manager or HR contact) as soon as they arrive. They can be taken to their workspace (make sure they have a desk, a chair and a computer) or to an orientation session.

Physical Set Up

Instructions should be provided for computer and email access as well as contact information for IT support.
A computer should be set up and ready for a new employee. If the computer isn’t set up, the new hire should have some guidance on how to do this. Some new hires are coming from large companies with limited experience setting up their own computers. Some executive candidates (VP+) may need a bit more handholding during the onboarding process. Whoever is assisting him or her get set up should be patient and focused on being helpful.
Don’t forget to have whatever’s needed and instructions for:
Building and office access
Desktop and/or mobile phones
Expense reimbursement
Corporate credit card, if applicable
Business card ordering

Best practice would also include:
Company swag
List of local lunch and coffee places

Office Tour - What should be included?

Break/lunch rooms
Kitchen, including any department procedures/norms around ordering snacks
Closest coffee/tea location outside of work
Local lunch options and locations
Supply room, including any department procedures/norms
Emergency and first aid supplies
Photocopy, fax machine, and scanner (including instructions on use)
Mail room
Emergency exits and procedures (and evacuation plans)

Mentor/Buddy System

Your company might not have a formal mentor program in the early stages of building the company. The workaround is to pair your new employee with someone who is not her direct manager and who she would feel comfortable going to with general questions (internal navigation, culture, etc.)
The hiring manager/founder should schedule a lunch/coffee with this person and the new employee during the first week and then they can decide the cadence for future meetings. In that first meeting, it’s typically helpful to address questions about the organization and the employee’s team and any surprises, concerns or resources needed. If the coffee is with the founder, this is a good time to cover topics around company strategy, product direction or financing. If the meeting is with the hiring manager, the conversation can be more focused around specific team issues.

Ongoing Support

Onboarding doesn’t start on the employee’s first day and end after the first week. It actually starts as soon as the employee signs the offer letter. Some companies send schwag to the employee (and to the family as a special touch). Another idea is to send a postcard and have the entire team sign it and reiterate how excited they are that the potential employee is joining.
Some companies leave a welcome gift (local coffee shop gift card, flowers or note) on the employee’s first day. If the employee is relocating from afar, a list of local things to do and favorite spots can be a nice touch. These small things have a big impact. They also act as a good “CYA” if something goes wrong on the first day (computer isn’t ready, hiring manager gets called into a meeting).

Onboarding Tools

In order to make the process seamless, there are automated tools to help HR teams as well as new employees get set up via self-service. The process can begin as early as the time at which the candidate accepts the offer.

When do you need an onboarding tool? Can’t you just track everything in a spreadsheet?

You can do this for your first 20-50 employees but it soon becomes an administrative nightmare. There are so many steps involving different departments that it makes sense to consider an onboarding tool before your company hits 50 employees. It’s always better to implement an onboarding tool before your process becomes broken and your HR person becomes overwhelmed.

We are a lean and aren’t ready to invest in an onboarding tool.

If you are an early stage company and can’t afford to invest in an onboarding tool yet, you can still be organized. If you aren’t ready to implement a tool, you can use a basic checklist. LinkedIn has created “Onboarding in a Box” which includes a very detailed downloadable .

Homebrew’s suggested tools

We have done demos of several onboarding tools and have a few suggestions for tools to try. Some of them are standalone onboarding tools (Sapling, Donut) and others are full Human Resources Information Systems/HRIS (Gusto, Greenhouse, BambooHR) where onboarding is one of the functions:
is an all-in-one HR, payroll, and health benefits platform for SMBs
New hires with welcome emails and employee self-onboarding
Great customer experience. So easy that you rarely need customer support
Everything done electronically
Clean UI that makes it very difficult to make mistakes.
Compliance all covered with automatic collection of I-9s, W-4s, and direct deposit info
If you like to receive a paper pay stub, you will have to print one out
No mobile app
Pricing: $39/month flat per company + $6/per employee per month.

offers a solution for managers and employees, with employee profiles, time-off requests & approvals, recruitment & applicant tracking, and reporting. It’s a full HRIS system that integrates with Greenhouse, Workable and Lever.
ATS Onboarding module easy to implement
Intuitive work flow
Great customer support
Good UI
Easy reporting
No performance management module (has vendors it partners with)
Doesn't synch with all payroll systems (Paychex)

is an end-to-end applicant tracking system (ATS) designed to make the recruitment process as productive and cost-effective as possible.
Creates a personalized, seamless and up-to-date pre-boarding experience for new hires
Organizes onboarding and offboarding of employees by creating task lists (lists let you assign task and due dates as well as keep everyone in the loop so nothing falls through the cracks
Collects new hire data directly from directly from the new hire, hiring manager, or HR and IT departments
Keeps track of everything from employment history to equipment requests
Greenhouse is a recruiting platform and onboarding is a feature. You can’t purchase just the onboarding capability. Greenhouse is best for a company that needs an entire ATS system.

is workflow automation platform for the employee lifecycle: onboarding, offboarding, and everything in between. It helps team members focus on employee engagement by automating emails, tasks assignments, surveys, and form signing and storage.
Highly customizable compared to competitors.
Does not integrate with Gusto.
Pricing: $5 per employee per month

provides companies with consistency, visibility, and data during new hire onboarding.
Employee-focused onboarding to help them ramp quickly versus compliance focus
Only integrates with BambooHR; does not integrate with Gusto

is an offer management and compensation tool creating a better candidate experience.
Integrates with Slack
Automatic scheduling
Can connect groups of 2-6 people
Not a full service recruiting/HRIS platform.
is an onboarding tool to be used with an HRIS system. It pairs up team members who don’t know each other well to spread trust and collaboration among the organization. Helps new hires get to know coworkers better. Currently in private beta.

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Huge thanks to Lisa Marie Wallace for her input on this document and to Sahar Jamili who always made the SFDC Exec recruiting team look like we had our act together when it came to onboarding.

Updated 12.1.23

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