How to search for, attract and retain talent

Chris Forbes of Cheeky Panda believes there are three stages to seeking, hiring and retaining top business personnel.

How to search for

Chris Forbes of Cheeky Panda believes there are three stages to seeking, hiring and retaining top business personnel.

In my first three columns for Elite Business, I discussed ‘bootstrapping’, ‘understanding the market’, and finally ‘raising capital.’ Yet possibly the most important topic of all is ‘building a great team’, and then retaining this talent within the company.

If you fail to assemble a team of talented people, who have expertise in the right areas, you’ll struggle to build a successful business. As the company and its brand grow, it does become easier to attract talent and there are three main segments to this process: ‘Start-up’, ‘Seed’ and ‘Scale-Up.’


This is the period when you have very little capital and it’s all about your passion and belief in building a business. Unfortunately, most candidates do not feel confident about signing up to a venture at this extremely early stage. They obviously consider such a move as ‘high risk’ ‘ and you can’t blame them. 

At Cheeky Panda we began the business from the spare room and, in the early days, our first employee worked from our house. I’d had a good working relationship with Greenwich University, having been a former graduate there. I had also undertaken a number of speaking engagements for the south London establishment, so when it came to selecting our first hire, we went for one of their graduates. 

There are many graduates who struggle to secure their first role, and are therefore happy to turn their hands to most things. They are usually fast learners and, despite a lack of work experience, are keen and motivated to perform well.

As capital and cash flow is usually an issue for start-up companies, you can offer certain potential employees equity in the business, which means your weekly and monthly outlays are reduced. Equity in return for expertise can be a good deal for both parties.

It also helps to employ people whose talents ‘ strengths and weaknesses ‘ are known to you from an earlier life. This makes team bonding a lot easier too. Part-time workers, or those who are happy to work from home, can be a good option but it is important to stress that energy and momentum are vital requirements at this early stage in a company’s life.


This is when you have already developed a solid business concept, with small sales and administrative teams in place. You are now ready to grow. By this stage your brand may have attracted the attention of outsiders who are keen to join the company.

This is a strong position to be in, because having people who are passionate about your business, all helps to create a winning culture. Having a long-term incentive plan also helps to motivate your staff, as well as potential suitors, and especially if salary payments are less than the industry norm.  

At this point capital may still be tight. I’d certainly avoid recruitment agencies and you should limit your job advertisements to websites such as Indeed. As the company expands further, you will definitely need to head-hunt your talent at some stage. But, for now, job sites should satisfy your requirements.


This is when attracting talent is easier than managing it. In larger teams, employees do not enjoy as much access to the main company bosses, as they do at either the ‘start-up’ or ‘seed’ stage.  At this point you will get people applying to work for you. By now company salaries will have improved and job seekers will assess the move as being less of a risk.  

However, people now need to be managed and the owner or chief executive will need to have a clear structure for the organisation, as well as realistic targets. You might want to hire a human resources expert, or a chief operating officer, to help with recruitment, as well as organisational structure.

Although you will have more access to talent, not everyone will be a good fit for the company. Some people are really strong at selling themselves at interview stage, but when they start working for the business, their performance is not up to scratch.  

This is why the more people you have involved in the interview process the better it is for weeding out unsuitable applicants. The more expertise at your disposal, the more relevant the line of questioning will be for interviewees.


I am a huge fan of having a long-term incentive plan. The same goes for enterprise management incentives. This allows employers to grant share options to employees, as a reward for their efforts within the business. This should help to retain and incentivise key members of staff. It may also include perks such as an extra day’s holiday, depending on length of service, or even gym membership. Next month I will discuss ‘culture.’

The Cheeky Panda is an eco-friendly bamboo household goods company. Chris Forbes founded The Cheeky Panda with wife Julie in 2016, after witnessing bamboo being harvested while on holiday in China. They have built a business that’s now valued at over £50m and is trading in more than 25 countries. The company has made it into the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list and, for the past three years, been among the UK’s top 100 start-ups.

Chris Forbes
Chris Forbes

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