Building a startup is a very personal affair, especially in its earliest stages.
Successful entrepreneurs quickly realise that what was once an idea they’ve held, or one they have shared between themselves and their co-founders, quickly spirals out of control and gains a life its own life. What started in a living room or garage can quickly evolve into an international operation with plenty of moving parts, which includes an array of new staff.
There are only so many tasks and responsibilities a handful of co-founders can handle, and sooner or later it’ll be time to let go and learn to delegate–either tasks you don’t need to personally oversee or roles you might not be the most qualified for.
Here are some tips to help you with your first few hires.
Focus on what you’re good at
A lot of founders pride themselves on having ‘done everything’ as a strapping young entrepreneur, praising their own adaptability and hard work. That’s well and good, but after a certain point this, is no longer a point of pride, but a point of weakness.
In business, specialisation is the name of the game, and overstretching yourself will only result in you putting less effort into the things you’re actually good at, which leads to subpar productivity and output.
For example, if you are business-savvy and your co-founding partner is good with IT and tech, it’s better to hire a new staff member to handle marketing or accounting. Your first few hires need to fill in the gaps in your team’s overall skillset.
The right experience
The startup world is an unforgiving one, with its own unspoken rules and a relatively unique set of challenges.
When you’re setting out on your own entrepreneurial journey, it helps to have someone on board who has worked for a startup before. The experience they bring to the table will help you navigate challenges that they might have faced in their previous roles, avoiding potential pitfalls.
Additionally, it’s also helpful to hire someone who has experience within your specific industry–even better if they’ve worked within your niche. For example, there are plenty of e-commerce specialists out there, but an e-commerce specialist in B2B trade is not likely the best fit for a B2C luxury or beauty e-commerce startup.
Align with candidates’ preferred career paths and values
Building a team, especially when you’re an early-stage startup, is very much like building a relationship with a significant other. It makes a world of difference if both parties are aligned about the outcomes they want to achieve out of the relationship, and the paths they envision for themselves.
The same applies to the candidates you screen to join your company.
A role in a startup is often a very different experience compared to a corporate 9-5 job. More often than not, the hours will be long, staff members will be required to work across different departments and fill multiple roles (note: this is only sustainable for a short period of time and should never be the norm in the long run), and a lot of creativity and ingenuity will be needed to keep the company afloat. Working in a startup can be a very exciting and rewarding experience–sometimes, not too different from working on a college passion project or being a crew member on a short film set–but it’s not for everyone. Make sure you understand what your candidates are looking to gain from the role, and where they would like their career with your company to take them.
You can always offer exceptional performers Employee Stock Options (ESOP) to motivate them further and instil a sense of ownership and loyalty. Get started here.
Adaptability and an aptitude for learning
As just mentioned, being a part of a startup often means you will have to take on multiple roles and tasks that you’ve never done before. What this requires is a candidate with drive, an aptitude for learning and a flexible mindset. Adaptability is key for any startup, so you will need to hire accordingly. Younger individuals are often more accepting of change, and can bring with them fresh ideas and perspectives, informing you of the preferences and expectations of the current young generation. While this is not a hard-and-fast rule by any means, as creativity and learning aren’t always tied to age, it is one to keep in mind.
Soft skills and personality traits
Most startups are in need of great technical and business know-how, certainly, but they are also in need of an abundance of soft skills.
At its essence, building a startup and leading it to success is a human-centric endeavour. The key to success in any field will often revolve around a leader’s ability to manage people, and when you’re building a startup, expect your team to be your second family–heck, you are likely to spend more time with them at certain stages than with your own real family. So, treat them as such.
As previously mentioned, hire team members whose values align with yours, and those with a swathe of soft skills that will help them achieve success, perform well in the close-knit family dynamic of the company, and navigate the myriad of professional (and unprofessional) obstacles that may arise. From time management skills to empathy and emotional intelligence, you need to look beyond the resume and identify soft skills that are key to success within a given role and the overall company.