How to Build a Great Startup Team

  • By: joannafurlong
  • Posted:

Hiring your few employees is a tricky process. You’re limited by several factors, including little (or no) brand recognition, tight funds and huge expectations. Plus, your early team members are a rare breed. They must be able to take on niche work, such as that of a programmer, but they also need to be master generalists.

If you’ve never hired anyone before, you’re in for a wild ride. If you have hired someone before, you’re in for a wild ride. Here’s why: these early employees may not be the founder or CEO, but they have tremendous influence to rock your little startup boat. After all, when you’re just, say, four employees and one is a bad apple, that’s 25% of your team. 25% of your team that you have a problem with. That’s a big deal.

Understand the value in hiring.

Before you do anything—appreciate the value of a hire. Fully appreciate and recognize the fact that you can’t do it all on your own. You can’t work 14 hours a day and grow your business for too long. At some point, you need help—and sanity. It’s a fact.

Offloading work to a trusted team member is the first way to truly focus on scaling your business.  Once you appreciate that, and realize that it’s a worthy investment, you’ll be willing to pay the right person what they’re worth because you know it’s that: an investment.

Don’t expect a unicorn.

A unicorn employee, that is. This isn’t just a startup problem, enterprises are guilty of this, too. Everyone is looking for the perfect match. Tall, drives a Porsche, zero baggage, can cook and fix things around the house….wait, we’re not talking about dating. Or are we?

Companies want a rock star employee who doesn’t want to get paid too much and is fiercely loyal. And is an expert in such-and-such, willing to work at all hours and—well, you get the idea. Pick and choose your top qualities and your must-haves. Because you can’t have it all.

Consider your workflow and your needs.

A lot of startup teams kick things off with a mixed bag approach: Full-timers, contractors, part-timers. When choosing what role to place in each bucket, consider your workflow and your needs. For example, do you have a lot of same-day or rush requests? This may not be ideal for a freelancer who is planning their weeks to accommodate multiple clients. Do you need someone in the office or are you okay with a remote worker? Is this person performing tasks or setting the course for company strategy?

It’s a delicate balance and you’ll notice it changes quickly as you grow and can take on more employees. The most important thing is that you—and your team—have realistic expectations.

Culture fit matters.

Fitting into a company is huge, no matter the size. To figure out if a prospective employee is a great culture fit, it boils down to values—in other words, what do you care about? You need to hire people who care about the same fundamental things.

Don’t wing this one. It’s too important. Take the time to write your values down.

You can’t find talent on your own.

It’s going to be so much harder than you realized to find your team. A quick Craigslist posting is unlikely to cut it for this one. You’ll need to fully leverage your network, and your network’s network, to find your gem. Also, consider investing in a recruiter to help you with outreach. While it’s an additional expense, time is money, and a recruiter will free up countless hours for you as you perform your search.

What are your tips for building your initial startup team? What worked for you? What was easier or harder than you expected?

One thought on “How to Build a Great Startup Team

  • Great article! I am working with clients every day to help attract and retain top talent. Furthermore creating and maintaining culture as you grow! It is one of the largest challenges for founders to realize their ambitions! TriNet is an integral part of that and I am so glad to be able to be a part of this sector!

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