Building a strong team is the most critical activity for any startup founder. However determining exactly who to hire and when can be a major challenge, especially in those early stages when resources are extremely limited. To gain insights on crafting the ideal startup team, I connected with Scott Biddle, a seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience launching and scaling companies. In our conversation, Scott shared hard-earned lessons on hiring for startups, from where to find talent to onboarding effectively.
Think generalists, not specialists
Scott explained that startups need versatile team members who take on a variety of different roles and responsibilities. “Look for generalists rather than specialists – people with diverse skill sets who know how to adapt quickly.” Instead of hiring an expert in a single function, consider someone with experience across multiple areas. This type of agile team member grows with the business. Look for co-founders who are complementary to your strengths, and who balance out your weaknesses, Scott advised. For example, a visionary CEO might seek a detail-oriented COO. Make a list of skills critical to the business and ensure you have people who fulfill them. Diverse co-founders also bring different perspectives to strategizing and problem-solving.
Leverage your existing network first
According to Scott, your personal and professional networks should be the first place you look for potential hires. Consider reaching out to former colleagues, friends who work in startups, or other contacts. Take a chance on startups with people you already know. Scott says founders are often surprised at how willing people are to join an intriguing new venture. He emphasized that startups require creativity in sourcing talent, especially when fundraising is limited. Rather than defaulting to a full-time employee, consider alternatives like contractors, interns, or part-time hires. For example, you may be able to bring on a talented marketer or designer on a project basis at first. Explore flexible or temporary arrangements.
Define culture and values early on
Be sure to define your startup’s mission and cultural values before hiring,” Scott advises. Articulate the vision, principles, and work style that will characterize your company. Then ensure prospective hires align with those elements. Scott noted the value of including culture-fit questions in interviews. He explained that some first-time founders delay hiring, trying to maintain flexibility or avoid commitment. However, he strongly urges bringing on at least one team member relatively quickly. Invest in the right hires to accelerate your startup’s progress. Revisit your needs as revenue flows and demands grow.
Map out the next 12 months of hiring
“Have a clear strategic hiring plan rather than making reactive decisions,” scott biddle scotlynn suggested. Define which roles you need to add over the next 6-12 months based on goals and projected growth. It allows you to set milestones for recruiting. Scott says founders should re-evaluate hiring plans quarterly as priorities shift. Take a methodical approach to training on responsibilities, company knowledge, workflows, and more. Introduce new team members to collaborators and partners. Set the foundation for their success.