How to hire your first 10 employees?

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Hiring the right core team can get you to traction quickly.

First time startup founders often have a tough time hiring their core team – mainly because they are waiting for the perfect blend of experience, background, and passion. It’s time to appreciate the fact that you cannot do everything on your own. If you keep the following in mind, the indomitable task of hiring your first employees will be a cinch (well, not really a cinch, but it will be easier).

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Define your needs first.

Before you dive into interviewing people, spend some time creating your ideal organisational structure. Simply identify the key roles needed (e.g., someone for Product Management, someone to look after daily operations etc.). This will help you keep your critical roles at the back of your mind when you are talking to potential hires and will prevent you from making expensive offers without a clear sense of the role’s contribution.

Identify where your talent “hangs out”

If you are looking for a specific type of talent, you have to reach them through their existing networks. Don’t use a generic job board if you are looking for very specific talent. If you can’t pay market rates, don’t post on premium job sites. Leverage Angel List and Tech in Asia, the talent there won’t need to be convinced to join a startup. That’s half the battle won.

Candidates on AngelList are specifically looking for startup jobs, hence a good place to start.

Pay attention to tier II

If you are looking for early employees straight out of college, keep your options open. If you can’t pay market rates, don’t head to MIT just yet. Students in Ivy League colleges are probably burdened with immense student loans – they are less likely to join a startup (although they may be more tempted to start out on their own given venture capital money chasing such talent). Pay special attention to specialist courses at tier II institutions. They are more likely to take your exciting role seriously and will likely try harder than their Ivy League counterparts.

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Every interaction with potential hires is an opportunity to sell your vision. Early employees join startups because they believe in the vision. Or because they believe in the founders. Set the right expectations with candidates, but also show them the future glory. Even after they accept your offer, keep in touch with them until the day they join. Share ongoing updates about your product, revenues, and new deals. When a candidate is in the market for a job, she’s having multiple conversations with many companies – showing that you are equally excited about having her onboard will go a long way to ensuring that she turns up Day 1.

Hire for culture fit.

Everything is in flux in the early days of a startup when everyone is winging it by the seat of their pants. If you are building something truly innovative, past experience in the field will likely be rare. Even a bit of internal strife can kill the early team. Focus on ensuring that you’re hiring for the right culture fit. Your gut usually makes the right call – if you feel less than hyper excited about a candidate, don’t take a chance. Hiring out of desperation usually leads to bad decisions.

Get ideal hires to refer more candidates.

Once you have hired someone you really like, get them to refer others to the team. You probably wowed them with your hiring pitch – and they are looking forward to telling their friends about the exciting new startup they just joined. They also understand the culture of the company and are likely to refer people that match the culture.

If you keep the above in mind, there is a high possibility that you can build a strong core team to prepare your company for the next phase of growth. However, there is no guarantee that you won’t hire a few bad apples along the way. If you feel you made the wrong call, it is better to let them go as early as you can. This keeps the rest of your team focused and motivated. You may think that no one else notices bad performance but, in a close knit core team, everyone knows who’s not pulling their weight. Eventually this hampers the others’ ability to go above and beyond their call of duty. The responsibility of weeding out C players early lies squarely on you, the founder.

Saps
Product and Marketing guy. Ex-founder of $10m re-commerce company, with extensive experience in B2B and B2C product design, revenue management, and sleepless nights.
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