4 Lessons From My Experience Onboarding 176 Employees at High-Growth Startups

by Lindsay Boone

This is the first blog in a two-part series by Lindsay Boone, HR Associate at High Alpha. She shares her advice for creating a seamless onboarding plan based on her experience onboarding hundreds of new employees across our portfolio. 


After joining High Alpha as an HR Associate, I’ve been a part of 61 new hire orientations and welcomed 170+ new faces to the High Alpha portfolio. 

Our HR & Talent team spends a lot of time, money, and energy finding great talent for our portfolio companies, and a great onboarding experience is key to retaining them and making sure they truly feel like an important member of the team.

Not sure where to start? Below are the four key pieces of advice that I share with all our portfolio companies to create a successful onboarding experience that scales with your early-stage startup. 

1. Start early (Yes, even as a new startup).

Startups are inherently stressful. Even the most capable employees will find themselves in positions of great uncertainty, and for startups, retaining your initial core team while building your product is essential. 

Not having an onboarding process in place is destructive for both the company and the new employees. Low morale, poor employee engagement, a lack of trust with leadership, and missed revenue targets are among the negative consequences of failing to create a thorough onboarding experience that successfully ramps the employee. 

Consider onboarding as your chance to see what works with hire number three, four, and five, so that by the time you begin scaling at breakneck speed, you don’t fall behind and have to drop everything to fix your onboarding plan.

Early engagement and alignment are critical to your employees sticking around. Don’t wait to think about onboarding.

2. Bad onboarding is costly.

When your perfect-one-in-a-million-unicorn candidate signs, it’s no time to rest. Your new hire could easily accept another offer somewhere else– but they chose you. Onboarding is the time to deliver on your promise to your new hire.  

According to Sapling, employees who had a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new positions in the near future. Replacing your unicorn candidate can cost you and your company an average of 24 days and $4,000. Throw in any signing bonus, shares, and other bells and whistles, and this adds up tremendously.

 For any company, turnover like this is costly. For startups, it can be deadly. 

Successfully onboarding a new employee is your first chance to deliver on the great expectations of joining a startup, ultimately saving you time, money, culture, and talent. Everyone wins. 

3. You can’t outsource everything, especially culture.

You may outsource paperwork, I-9’s, payroll, benefits, or similar HR services. That’s my job! But only you and your internal team can truly provide a complete end-to-end onboarding experience.  Onboarding is not complete when your new hire has signed all paperwork and has left orientation. This is merely a transfer of the onboarding baton.  

You should be planning for your hire’s first few days beyond the mundane paperwork. Set time to expose your new hires to your company’s values and norms. Make sure you take the time to get to know them and introduce them to everyone they will be working with, including those outside of their initial team. If you’re up to it, throw in some introductory swag, a welcome box, or welcome lunch! 

4. Ask for feedback.

Your process won’t be perfect, few things are in a startup. There’s always room for improvement! That’s why I always encourage our portfolio companies to get a pulse-check with new hires after their first two weeks. What’s going well? What isn’t? What can you do better for your next new hire? Gather this feedback and make adjustments for future new hires. You can never stop improving.

At the end of the day, having an excellent onboarding experience will help you retain talent and grow your startup. If you don’t have a plan for your employee onboarding experience, don’t waste any more time and use the lessons above to get started.