Start-Ups

Startup hiring: How to build your 'A-Team'

Putting the right team together is crucial to the success of your startup. Here are some tips to help you hire right.

 
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 Image: iStockphoto/4774344sean

For many startups, their first year is often their most volatile. Developing a value proposition, gaining traction in the market, and trying to figure out what you are even doing is difficult; and it can be even more difficult without the right people in your corner.

The team behind your idea is the most important piece of the startup puzzle. Once you choose a great co-founder and go as far as you can with just the two of you, it's time to start building the rest of your team. Hiring the right people makes all the difference, especially in the early days.

If you are a non-celebrity entrepreneur, you will have to do some determined recruiting to convince the right people to fill the roles on your team.

Finding your rock stars

If you are a startup founder, you should always be recruiting. As your company grows you will see new roles that need to be filled, so keep a list of the stand-out people you meet so that you can call on them when the time is right. You may not have the money to hire them right away, but you want to know who to call on when you have the resources to do it.

Even if you are focused on recruiting, it can be hard to find the time to source good talent and even harder to convince people your vision is the right one. Katie Hughes, director of talent at VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, said the top hiring challenges are, "Lack of time and a less-than-inspiring story."

"To maximize your time, train and enable leaders within your organization to recruit for their own team members. Referral programs, function-specific recruiting teams and consistent feedback metrics are cost-efficient ways I've seen founders offset recruiting responsibilities by empowering their employees," Hughes said.

Your existing employees (or your co-founder) and your customers can be a huge asset to your team by pointing you to the right people. Just be sure that you have a clear and open conversation about what kind of talent you are looking for. Hughes said that you can also leverage your team to develop your story.

One of the hardest truths about entrepreneurship is that no one will ever care as much about your idea as you do. You know there is a market opportunity and you know you have a killer product, but it is possible that you aren't telling your story in a compelling way. Hughes recommends surveying your friends and customers to make sure there is consistency is how people see your company.

So, you're committed to recruiting, but what should you be looking for? Hughes asserts that the number one thing to look for in prospective hires is resourcefulness. Founders need people that are aggressive in the way they seek out solutions to problems. According to Adi Pinhas, CEO and founder of Superfish, you also need people that can get things done.

"In a startup, everyone must deliver. No exceptions. Founders should not be impressed with people with amazing titles (engineers, marketers or managers) nor from the big name company that they are coming from. Founders need to make sure that the candidates are 'doers'," Pinhas said.

In addition to finding doers, you have to find doers that fit the culture of your company. You want to find people that share the same goals that you do, and you want to set the bar high for what you expect. According to CircleCI founder Paul Biggar, in setting the bar high, you need to recognize where the bar is for specific roles and seek out the perfect fit for that role.

"Someone who is an 80 percent fit for a role—that is 20 percent too low," Biggar said.

Once you find these people, you have to know how to get them to stay.

Taking care of your people

Startups are famous for overly-casual work environments and substantial benefits. It's great that company X offers free beer on tap and encourages Halo tournaments on Thursdays, but those things are hard to think through when you are still trying to gain traction and get your feet under yourself.

Benefits are important because they define your company culture, but  they are also important because they show your employees that you value the hard work they have put into your company. Startups are risky for everyone involved. Convincing people to drink your particular batch of Kool-Aid is one thing, but you also have to acknowledge that they have something to lose.

"The early hires are taking a risk as high as the founders. In most cases the first hires are making the move with open eyes and they understand the risk-opportunity tradeoff. That should be respected," Pinhas said.  

Working at a startup can be one of the most rewarding jobs you've ever had, but it can also suck. The hours can be long and the work can be unfocused, so it is important to give your employees an incentive to keep them motivated. However, benefits should serve only as a complement to good work environment.  

"Too many people focus on having the right benefits package and having the right perks, without focusing on making this a place that people can be happy long term," Biggar said.

Startups, more so than some businesses, carry a high risk due to the their unpredictable nature. As you hire, focus on the personal and professional growth of your employees. This is the best way to show employees that you care and that you see the value they add to your team.  

These people are helping you build your dream, so it only makes sense that they deserve a piece of that dream to call their own. Biggar recommends giving employees a voice when it comes to the business. Don't give them the ability to change the course of the business, but be receptive to their feedback.

As an entrepreneur, you are only good as the people you surround yourself with. You'll probably be spending more time with these people than your own family, so find people whose personalities mesh well with yours. It may be your dream, but you can't chase it alone.  

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About

Conner Forrest is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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