When you find yourself in the position of hiring for your startup, it can be daunting to decide where to begin, or what aspects to consider. For a small team, early hires are incredibly influential. They will impact how the culture and work ethic evolves in your company. In a large business, a mediocre employee’s performance may have some impact. In a startup, average performance by anyone on the team could mean the difference between success or failure for the company.
The internet is full of information and advice regarding the hiring process. Many of them mention the “key” to hiring, or a single quality to look for in a candidate. These recommendations are certainly applicable in some cases, but each startup has a unique product, culture and set of values. With this in mind, it’s helpful to consider these broader guiding principles.
Try not to hire!
This seems counter-intuitive, but we can explain! Some founders have the impression that acquiring lots of employees early on is impressive, and looks good to investors. We believe you and your cofounder should be tackling as much as you can, for as long as you can. This isn’t to endorse spreading yourself too thin; recognizing the need for support is a strength great founders have. Simply challenge the need to hire and consider your motivations. You may thank yourself later for waiting.
When it’s time to hire, make it your #1 priority.
This doesn’t imply exclusively focusing on hiring, as you’re keeping a business running after all. When we say #1 priority, we mean it should be the largest piece of the pie. Sam Altman says 25% of your time should be dedicated to hiring, when it’s underway. Considering all the other things a founder has to keep afloat, 25% is a lot of time.
Attend meetups. Go to networking events. Join a coworking space and get onboard with your local entrepreneurial community. Familiarizing yourself with a community opens up endless helpful connections that could lead you to meeting a future teammate. Additionally, don’t let your geography limit you. It may be incredibly helpful to attend a conference elsewhere, relevant to your industry. There are lots of talented people out there, and it’s your job to enable those connections by showing up and making them.
Value personal referrals (and contact references).
Utilize the references and referrals that you may get regarding potential hires, by reaching out and asking important questions about the candidate. What projects have they executed in the past? What are they like as a teammate? What are their defining qualities? As you can imagine, this unlocks important insights that you may not learn during an interview process.
Consider their independence, and openness to risk.
A reality of working with a startup, is that the company could cease to exist in mere months. It takes a unique person to be excited by this daunting circumstance. How comfortable are they with risk? Has their work experience mostly been in large corporations? This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but ask yourself how it reflects on their underlying professional goals or expectations surrounding team dynamic. Working with a startup means heavy collaboration, but it also requires independence, initiative, and personal accountability. Listen for these themes as you get to know your candidate’s work philosophy and past behavior.
Aptitude for the win.
Experience absolutely matters, especially in certain roles. But we think aptitude goes alot further. An ability to learn outweighs experience. Someone who exhibits a natural drive to solve problems has exponential value as a member of your company. In a startup, the issues facing your team every day are impossible to predict — which is why hiring those who are resourceful, and know how to improvise is perhaps the most important quality to look for in a potential hire.