If running your own business wasn’t hard enough already, eventually you’ll have to trust someone else with everything you’ve worked to build. For those who came up with an idea by themselves, this may initially take shape in the form of bringing on a co-founder. As your business grows, your team is going to have to expand with it.
When the team is small, each individual hire has a huge impact on the dynamic of the team. After your startup’s founders are established, the first hire sets the tone for the earliest stages of your business.
1. Identify Why You’re Hiring
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many founders enter the hiring phase too early and without good reason. Too many cooks in the kitchen does not make a better cake.
If you don’t have a clear deficiency in your business, don’t hire.
Unfortunately, not all founders are created equal. Some know how to code, some are marketing experts, and some may be great at product design. Everyone has a different skillset to start with, and therefore all founders will need to hire for different deficiencies in their skill sets.
However, don’t be afraid to hire out of speculation. For example, if you’re a designer launching a fashion line and know that hiring the best tailor in Los Angeles will make your product better, it’s not a bad idea to chase that hire if you’re sure that it will benefit your business in the long run.
2. Dedicate the Majority of Your Time
Finding the perfect employee is a full-time job, and that’s why many businesses end up hiring professional recruiting agents to find perfect employees. Most early stage startups don’t have (and shouldn’t be spending) the resources to hire someone to do this. A startup’s first hire should always be picked by the original founders.
As a founder, it’s unrealistic to allocate all of your time to one specific task. That being said, when you’re ready to hire, it helps to set aside some time to prioritize your focus on hiring. Most early hires come through referrals and will likely already be in your network. Take the time to follow leads, send emails, schedule interviews, and meet with potential hires.
You don’t want your first employee to end up either leaving or worse yet, needing to be fired. Investing a few weeks into finding the perfect first hire will be payed off almost immediately and continue to benefit your company for years to come.
3. Prioritize Ability Over Skills
Having the right skills should be a prerequisite to your hiring process. After all, that should be why you’re looking in the first place. But once you begin to look at individuals, it’s time to focus on how a person’s abilities stack up to what they’ve learned.
A great example of this is the world of design. For the most part, anyone can take design classes and learn the fundamentals of user interfaces and experiences. However, the skills learned to create designs does not automatically translate into the ability to design beautiful interfaces.
Ability is unique to each individual. You could hire four different web developers that all know the same languages, yet each would likely be stronger in different areas.
Regardless of what industry your startup is in, you should always prioritize two abilities in your first hire:
- Problem solving
Most startups are born out of a problem. Being independent and being able to solve problems is essential for any first hire, regardless of what skill they bring to the table. The ability to learn is equally as important. If you hire people that are excited to learn, you will never have a deficiency of skills to solve problems in the most efficient manner.
The ability to learn quickly and independently is perhaps the most important trait to look for in you first hire. To be successful in any aspect of a startup, you have to be able to learn. Iterating your product requires you to learn from the feedback of your users. Creating effective marketing campaigns requires you to learn from your data and change your advertising habits.
More specifically, it’s impossible for founders to predict exactly what they will need to know to grow and sustain their business. Founders have to learn to keep their startup alive. Your first hire should be no different. Treat it as if the life of your business depends on it.
Your first hire must have the ability to adapt to their environment and learn the necessary skills to get the job done. Keep this in mind when interviewing your first employee and it will be hard to make a mistake.
4. Do an Attitude Check
With a small team, attitude is everything. One bad egg will immediately impact your productivity and disrupt your business. When you work at a startup, you don’t get separation from your coworkers like most normal jobs. Hours are most likely going to be crazy, and the “office” locations can be even crazier.
It’s important that early hires know this early on. You need to make sure that your first employee can remain positive regardless of what your startup is going through. When things are going south, the worst thing you can do is add fuel to the fire by having someone on your team that spews negativity.
Never Rush Into It
Never rush into the hiring process. If the life of your business depends on it and you need work fast, it’s not a bad idea to turn to freelancers. But when you’re getting ready to fully onboard a new team member, you need to take your time.
Treat your first hire almost like a product. You need to make sure they completely align with your vision as a founder. If you don’t find the perfect person for your startup, your end product will always end up suffering. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring someone that appears great on the surface just because you’re desperate. Terminating a weekly contract with a freelancer is a lot easier than firing someone on your founding team.
Be patient, and wait for the perfect person. Take your time during interviews, don’t be afraid to call references, and make sure that you’re ready to spend extensive amounts of time with the person you’re getting ready to hire.