Hiring is one of the most difficult parts of putting together a project. It requires balance, tough budget decisions, a lot of forecasting the future, and a hunt for the right talent with the right personality and enthusiasm. 23% of failed startups cite postmortem that their crucial mistake was not having the right team. The right team will allow a startup to take off and nimbly adjust to challenges. The wrong team will waste time, money, and in many cases, a good idea.
Small teams can create extraordinarily strong projects. Each participant has a distinct role, and brings their independent mind into the conversation. This allows fast-paced development without the compromises required of a larger team. Nonetheless, small teams can be creatively and impersonally challenging. A single voice that’s incompatible with the rest of the team can decrease productivity and alter the relationships throughout, and even a great team needs monitoring and training over time. Here are some tips for picking a small team and remaining aware of the challenges.
1. Understand What Positions You Need
Many teams will begin with developers and universalists. Budgeting might not allow you to hire marketing without a product design and viability at least. This is not the same as saying that you shouldn’t be thinking about marketing, hence the universalists. Next comes the marketing and support departments. Remember, though that your startup may not directly follow this formula.
Instead of following a formula, identify positions and key strategies, such as how decisions will be made and foundational structures. Positions should correspond to tasks that need to be handled in your startup. This will keep you from hiring for positions you don’t need, while allowing you to aim for the talents that will help your startup grow. This planning process will make sure that you hire for a diverse range of talents.
Many startups decrease the distance between partners and employees, thus flattening the hierarchy. You need all the strategic thinking you can get. Also, on your small budget, you wouldn’t be hiring people unless they’re essential, so let them know that despite rank. Gratitude and listening help a team’s resilience and motivation.
2. Don’t Hire More Than You Need
Fill in the gaps by reaching out to partners, advisers, and contractors. In some cases, you can work to gain these contractors as employees over time, if they mesh well with your team. But be aware that many contractors aren’t interested in becoming employees. It’s important that this category fill in the gaps and perform tasks outside of the skillset of your employees, rather than being your sole partners. Relying solely on contractors puts your startup in a vulnerable position, since it needs the labor of individuals who don’t necessarily need the startup or share its specific goals.
When you can, bring in a mentor for the whole team. Having someone with experience accessible can help elevate a team of enthusiastic amateurs, who are driven by a vision, to strong and formidable professionals. The availability of a mentor can therefore offset a lack of technical skills and speed up the learning curve for a team that is interpersonally strong but lacks experience.
3. Stay Transparent About Funds
Offset small budget salaries with the importance of other incentives. Many people choose to work for startups over higher paying, more stable companies for the ability to grow, expand, participate in something they’re passionate about, and face challenges. At the same time, startups offer rapid growth for team roles, that could only happen at a more stable company through years of grinding away.
Be careful not to make your employees feel that they’re not worth more money. If they see the facts themselves, they can reason out the pay decisions on their own, and help you make some of these important budget decisions in the future.
This also helps you stay aware of people who are only interested in money. Those people who are only looking for a job but haven’t done any leg work, such as checking out the company, reading the job description thoroughly to make sure that your goals align, and all the rest. If you’re attuned to this, you will find these attitudes easy to detect in conversation. This isn’t to say that employees shouldn’t be interested in being paid, but you need people who are dedicated to your goals.
4. Take Your Time Bringing in Someone New
Hiring slowly and patiently is very important for startups. It’s best to take your time and find the right person for your team, as opposed to just filling roles. There are a few factors to consider in this case. It’s sometimes necessary to eliminate negative influences and attitudes from your startup, for the sake of preserving team coherence and productivity. However, excessive turnover, and in the case of a small team the bar is low regarding what’s excessive, will cause instability among your team. This is the reason behind the maxim “hire slowly, fire quickly.”
This kind of insecurity and instability should be the last thing you want, considering the potentially turbulent environment inherent to growing a startup. At the same time, keeping an employee who is a bad fit for the team just because you don’t want to shake things up can stymie growth and cause similar insecurity, resentment, or interpersonal difficulties among team members.
Working interviews can help you see how the prospective employee works and communicates with other team members. Nonetheless, it’s important to continue evaluating and training team members even after the hiring process.
As a side note, hiring friends or classmates as a partner can be a mistake if you find them difficult to work with or they tend to polarize the team. This can also go double for family. Startups are different from family businesses, which most often stay local. Startups need to scale and quickly, so an awkward family relationship can upset the necessary teamwork dynamic.
5. Hire for Personalities and Talents
Broadly speaking, it can be very difficult to pick employees to man your startup team. This is because the employees that you need for a startup often need different qualities from what we would select for when hiring for a stable business. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, or that someone who has had experience working at a stable business would have no chance at a startup. Instead, it’s important to emphasize personal qualities when choosing roles for startup employees.
Startups are subject to sudden changes without a clear corporate culture or precedent to deal with these changes. This means that all decisions really do depend on your startup team and their ability to handle changes and steer the startup in viable directions at the same time. This flexibility might also require employees to wear all hats and withstand intense demands to land a successful launch and deal with potentially global and digital problems.
This means rethinking hiring for education and immediate proficiencies. Instead, consider whether your candidate is quick-learning and willing to continue learning throughout the entire process, while putting their ego aside. Of course, capability is important, so having no demonstrable skills or evidence of goal completion should be just as much a red flag as an empty degree.
Seeing a candidate’s self-motivation can be key here. One important indicator of employees who are dedicated to growing and developing a strong project are those who have their own personal motivation and dedication goals. This might mean that they set goals for their own hobbies or personal development.
You also want employees who can deal with work problems without getting overwhelmed. In this case, organizational skills will sometimes correlate to an individual’s ability to compartmentalize. However, not everybody expresses their ability to remain cool under pressure in the same way, so it’s best to keep an open mind about the buzzwords and dig a little deeper.
Most of all, it should be comfortable and pleasant speaking with your candidate, since communication is among the most important parts of development. Despite experience, education, and capability, it’s best to steer clear of hiring someone you feel that you can’t speak to. Red flags in this case might be a long communication lag time, any signs of disrespect, or overly critical behavior not backed up with solid constructive comments.
6. Team Members Should Share Goals and Enthusiasm
New team members need to support the values of the startup. Fresh ideas are a boon from your candidate, but you should be aware of employees who see the startup as their own passion project to mold. These individuals may not be as willing to compromise or perform tasks that go against their personal vision.
It’s good for employees to share a sense of passion and enthusiasm for your project, but that doesn’t mean that you should hire for all positivity all the time. Having a pessimist on board could give you added foresight and help you spot problematic situations before they happen. At the same time, just because an individual is more critical or pessimistic doesn’t mean that they won’t work hard toward your goal. These things should be evaluated on an individual basis.
It’s also a great idea to encourage bonding and trust between team members. Don’t become distrustful of members who decide to spend time with each other outside of work or seek to get to know each other better. Team bonding promotes strong trust and support structures for when the going gets tough.
Even though hiring a small team is one of the more important decisions that you’ll make as you work on your startup, it’s also a decision that relies a lot on your instincts and your own interpersonal preferences. Finding balance is about finding and adapting with the people that you can communicate with and whose talents and strengths you recognize.