Startup Advice

Fast-track your startup: How to know exactly who to hire, and when

Benjamin Chong /

Most founders know that surrounding themselves with the right people sets a business up for future success. Whether that involves finding a co-founder or the first full-time employee, these are probably the most important hires a business will ever make, so every role counts.

A startup might benefit from so many different skills but how does a founder narrow down the hunt for talent to a person with particular expertise? It’s a question that keeps founders up at night but there are ten key considerations that apply for all startups as they start their hiring journey.

1. Do you need an employee or a co-founder?

There is empirical evidence that businesses built on co-founding teams do better than single founder businesses, especially if they have a mix of technical, commercial and domain expertise. It pays to have people on board with complementary skills who, as a co-founder, are emotionally and financially invested, and share your vision.

2. Be clear about your vision and only hire like-minded people

Founders who can articulate their vision and paint a picture of the future will attract people who are both interested and capable. The founder will do best over the long term if they can take people on their journey with a clear destination and vision.

3. The right person is a moving target

Stage-specific hires make sound business sense but hanging on to people who have been part of the early stage experience can also be invaluable. The “right” person will change as the business grows and develops. The key to early-stage success is knowing where the gaps are with the founder’s own skill set and filling these gaps. As the business progresses, roles will change and people may move on but there’s value in adapting roles to keep the business’ original DNA. Ultimately a founder shouldn’t worry about that next stage until they are almost there.

4. Knowing the competitive advantage is important

If deep technical skills are required to achieve this competitive advantage and the founder can’t fill the role, this will be an important hire to make. Conversely, if speed to market is important and the founder has the technical skills, then finding a sales or marketing guru should take priority.

5. Stay close to the product and the customer

The early headcount should include people who are close to both the product as well as the customer’s needs and requirements. This will ensure that customer feedback is integrated into the ongoing development of the product and business.

6. Will growth be mostly driven on sales or marketing?

Founders should weigh up whether they will need salespeople knocking on doors or a clever marketing campaign to pull in customers and then hire accordingly. In the early stages, it’s critical to show traction and investing in salespeople is often a more immediate way of getting the business to the next level.

7. Look for people who are flexible and willing to roll their sleeves up

Depending on the founder’s own skill set and their technical, commercial or domain expertise, a generalist might be the best addition to the team. But regardless of the skills a person brings to the table, in a startup it is important that people are prepared to roll their sleeves up. The business will have limited resources and will need people who are agile, flexible and are able to work on a range of topics and tasks.

8. Testing, learning and adapting is a part of everyday startup life

The team will ideally be made of fast-learners who can adapt to and learn different frameworks of knowledge quickly. As the market changes, the fast-learners will be quick in their ability to analyse and understand new situations to help the business pivot if needed and remain competitive. Conversely, individuals who fail to see the benefits of experimentation and are inflexible will not be conducive to the growth of the business.

9. Tap into the expertise in your network

Reach out to your investors, your network of advisers and the startup community if you require business advice or guidance around a specific issue. These skills are essential for a startup but dos not necessarily constitute an employed role.

10. A new stage means greater focus

As a business grows and its operations and user base become more complex, the startup’s team will also need to adapt to become more specialised. The roles of team members will become focused if they have been more of a ‘generalist’ in the early stage. At later levels, individuals of specialised knowledge will be responsible for developing the business and adding the substantive flavour that pushes the business beyond early-stage funding and towards an exit strategy.

As with any business whether a startup, large enterprise, or bank, fit is extremely important when hiring team members. The business should hire people who represent a fine balance between fit with culture whilst also providing value to the business through a significant level of diverse domain experience and background.

People power is arguably the greatest driver of success in a startup. The journey is long and tiring and keeping an open mind when hiring will ensure that startups attract the right talent at every stage.

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Benjamin Chong

Benjamin is partner at venture capital firm Right Click Capital.