- Huel, a UK-based meal replacement startup, has focused on hiring as a significant factor in its growth.
- Founder Julian Hearn says that by locating outside of London, Huel has been able to be more cherry-pick the best people.
- Huel’s focus on being a “mission-based” business has also helped it attract people who are interested in cutting food waste, reducing CO2 emissions from food production, and veganism.
- This article is part of a series on growing a small business, “From 1 to 100.”
Huel founder Julian Hearn has focused on talent recruitment in growing his business from 1 to just-over 100 employees
Julian Hearn, the cofounder of UK-based meal replacement startup Huel, said that hiring is one of the most important things for founders to get right.
The entrepreneur — who has sold millions of pounds worth of his nutrition complete food powder — now has over 100 staff, in his company located across three UK offices and one US office in New York.
In the same way that Google staff are named Googlers, Huel employees have been dubbed Huelligans.
Fuelled with £20 million from investors, Hearn said he hit the 100th employee milestone within the last couple of months. But it wasn’t a big deal. “Sadly we don’t mark those sorts of occasions,” Hearn said. “You’re always very focused on the future and every day you just come in and get stuff done.”
Recruiting the right people hasn’t been as hard for Huel as it is for some companies, said Hearn, who thinks that Huel has a couple of big advantages.
“One of them is being based outside of London,” he said. “It means that competition in the area is a lot lower than it would be for talent in London. We’re able to cherry-pick the people that we want and there’s not many companies competing for those people.”
He adds that being a “mission-based” business has also helped Huel to attract people the increasing numbers of people that are interested in cutting food waste, reducing CO2 emissions from food production, and veganism.
Initially, Hearn did all of Huel’s recruitment himself but there came a point in time when he needed to ask for help.
He shunned the traditional recruitment agencies. “They’re so expensive in my eyes,” he said, adding that they don’t understand the business as well as an internal recruiter.
The first 20-25 hires cost Hearn around £1,500 to recruit. “To put that in perspective, agencies will quite often start with fees of 20% of an employee’s starting salary. If you took somebody on at a £50,000 starting salary, 20% of that is £10,000,” he said. “It quickly gets very, very expensive.”
In 2017, Hearn was trying to hire a new CEO so that he could step down. A recruitment agency quoted him 30% of the CEO’s starting salary, which would probably be in excess of £100,000. “I said absolutely no way,” said Hearn.
Huel ended up hiring James McMaster, the former boss of Up&Go owner Life Health Foods UK.
Today Hearn has a full-time in-house recruiter, but he is always keeping an eye out himself for new talent.
Huel is a big fan of Indeed because it is a very cost effective way of finding people, Hearn said. “You can normally get someone for less than £200 in advertising.” The company often hires people with no experience if they can show they’re intelligent, hard-working, and have a degree of integrity.
“For more junior roles, I think sometimes experience can be a hindrance,” Hearn said.
LinkedIn is slightly better for hiring more senior people as you can search by things like skills, experience, and previous employers, he said.
Hearn said he interviews every new recruit himself to make sure they are “the right type of person” and a good culture fit.
A candidate’s location is another important and often overlooked factor, according to Hearn. “I’ve had lots of people who say I’m going to move, I’m going to relocate and often they don’t,” he says.
If candidates are successful, they get access to a free on-site gym, unlimited Huel (obviously), and an academy programme where they can try to upskill themselves.
Huel’s spent a lot of money on making the office look and feel nice in the hope that employees will appreciate it and ultimately be happy.
“Come here, do your job, don’t expect you to work late, forget your job and go home,” Hearn said. “But while you’re here, you know, it should be a place that you enjoy being.”