How Referral Recruiting Fueled Early Growth at Segment

Aubrie Przybysz
Marketing at Drafted
Adriana Roche Segment HR

In October 2015, Segment, the San Francisco-based the customer data platform, was at an inflection point: They had just raised $27M in Series B fundraising from some of tech’s biggest VC funds, had hit the 50 person mark, and they needed to double in size to support their growth goals. The founding team, including CEO Peter Reinhardt, had made it this far -- from MIT to Y Combinator to traction and initial growth -- but they realized that they needed to bring on a Human Resources leader to invest in referral recruiting and handle the steep growth curve they were about to hit and .

As timing would have it, long-time HR and Recruiting expert, Adriana Roche was looking for new growth opportunities in her career. Adriana had held recruiting positions at Google, Salesforce and Dropbox, but wanted to build out HR for an earlier stage team. She asked an investor friend to recommend a great smaller team and he introduced her to Segment.

“From the second I walked through the doors, I knew Segment had a special team,” Adriana remembered, “There were 52 people, but there was no recruiting and only one person in Human Resources. Pretty much everything had to be built from scratch.” The element of Segment that Adriana was most excited about was that Peter and the founding team believed in the importance of HR and needed the role to be a strategic business partner. HR would report directly to the CEO and have a seat at the leadership table.

Recruiting and Referrals as a priority

Adriana joined Segment in late October 2015 and got to work building the processes and support system that Segment would need to aggressively hire over the next 12 months. Early on, she realized how supportive her team was. The executive team and whole company immediately supported her recruiting efforts. “I didn’t have to do too much to convince people that recruiting was important,” she joked. Since last year, Adriana has been able to hire 70 team members and build HR processes for a team of 120.

Passion, core values, and referral recruiting

As Adriana learned about what made candidates join Segment, she began to understand why referrals were such a big part of the story: Users, investors, and teammates love Segment’s product and mission. She sought to capitalize on the opportunity and pool her resources into referral recruiting methods.

customer data platform

“People who know about Segment are super excited about the product. Technical people geek out on it. Business-minded candidates can see the market opportunity,” Adriana explained. The team and tech community’s passion for Segment is an invaluable “lever” that Segment recruiting uses to hire the best talent available. Segment has four core values, which they’ve had since inception: Karma, Tribe, Focus, and Drive. Each value helps them establish a culture and value system that makes working at Segment truly unique. Adriana and her team use these values in their recruiting strategy, and one of those values, sense of Tribe, has played an important part in how Segment recruits and hires over the past year.

Sense of Tribe and “The Referral Tree”

When Adriana first joined Segment, she engaged with staffing agencies to hire quickly but also wanted to learn more about where Segment found their first 50 employees. So, she asked her colleague Courtney to conduct a survey of the team to understand how each of them was hired: Most of the team at Segment was referred. This made sense for a team that believes in a sense of “Tribe” as a core value.

While there had been referrals in the past, Adriana quickly developed a real process to hire referrals. “It was obvious: From a business perspective referrals require fewer resources, they’re warmer and they go through the hiring process faster. From a culture perspective, referrals further support our belief in Tribe.

”Referrals quickly became a full-fledged initiative, that included leaderboards, trips to exotic locations, and a featured “job of the week”. Read the full story of how Segment runs referrals.

During the rollout, Adriana’s colleague Courtney took the data from the Segment hiring survey and started a brilliant project: She mapped out all of the employees who had been referred to Segment on a giant “referral tree” that is now an icon in Segment’s San Francisco headquarters, and a source of bragging rights.

The highly creative and branded Referral Tree is hard to miss when you walk into the office, dominating the entire main hallway wall, and the size of each person’s circle depends on how many people they have referred. It also focuses on the types of referrals: Partners, investors and users are also part of the wall since Segment believes in the power of community referrals. They understand that almost half of all referrals come from outside your company. In fact, Segment’s best referrer is one of their early investors.

referral recruiting methods

“Every time employees walk by it, I can hear them saying ‘I need to make another referral.’ It’s a brilliant reminder,” said Adriana. The referral tree has solidified the sense of Tribe that Segment’s founders hoped to create when they created their core values, and now, 40% of all employees are hired through referrals.

Sustained growth fueled by referral recruiting

In 2017, the HR and Recruiting team at Segment will continue to have steep hiring goals -- but with the processes in place to scale and a culture that truly believes in hiring -- they’ll be ready for it. If you’re interested in learning more about how Segment developed their referral recruiting process, read the full story here.

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