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13 Founders Explain What to Look for When Hiring Early-Stage Employees 



One of the most important tasks of any startup is hiring. Startups succeed not just because of an idea or a product but through culture and execution. People build a culture and it is within the framework of that culture that they execute the daily tasks of a business. At a startup, each person must do the work of five normal employees and so if you make the wrong hire your mistake is truly amplified. 

Quotes from startup founders and executives 

“Look for the people that are just as passionate about the problem your company is solving as you are. We know that our employees can command a higher salary someplace else, but they’re in it, because they want to be part of the solution. The people that are just looking for the buzziest startup or biggest check will always be a mistake, because they’ll just move onto the next shiny object. The ones that share your passion, they’re willing to go on the crazy ride that is a startup with you – and that’s when you know you have the right team.”

-Brittany Greenfield, Founder and CEO of Wabbi, wabbisoft.com 


“The number one thing I look for in an early stage employee is the ability to be self motivating. Some may describe this as hustle. Too many people get conditioned in corporate environments to stay in their lane, and do their job. However, in a startup, roles are vaguely defined at best. It’s imperative to have all hands on deck and that people step outside their own role to help out. That may be when they run out of work they pick up slack somewhere else or even better, someone that can think critically and come to you and recognize when there is other work to be done in the organization that is higher priority than their current workload.” 

-Rami Essaid, CEO and founder of Finmark, finmark.com 


“Two words: core values. First, make sure you have them and that they are authentic, not aspirational. Next, hire using them as the most critical lens for which you view talent through. This will ensure alignment with vision and execution out the gate. Don’t be fooled, it’s as much about attitude as it is about aptitude!”

-Andrew Rinaldi, Co-Founder of Defendify, https://www.defendify.io/ 


“I recommend hiring talented team members with skill sets beyond the initial role you need. Fast growing startups require people to be able to pivot and adapt into new positions and activities quickly. Hire new team members with talents that are not just for what you see as the initial need, but who will be able, flexible and eager to take on more challenging or new responsibilities in the near future.”

-Rob Simopoulos, Co-Founder of Defendify, https://www.defendify.io/ 


“With early stage start-up, you need to look for certain new hire characteristics. We look for intellectual athleticism in a person who can think on their feet, act with their hands and is never rattled by turbulence.”

-John Joseph, Co-founder and CEO of Datanomix https://datanomix.io/ 


“When hiring for early-stage companies, we believe Integrity is 1st, 2nd and 3rd on the list of what to look for. When operating in a high pressure environment with immense constraints (on capital, people, systems, etc.) things are going to go wrong. We look to hire people who can roll with the punches and be solution oriented, no matter how challenges the circumstances. If you don’t screen for integrity, it all falls apart at the first sign of trouble.”

-Abe Stein, Co-Founder and GM at Matter365, https://matter365.com/ 


“There’s a big difference working for a startup as opposed to a more established organization. The only constant at a startup is change and people you hire have to be ok with that. There is a fine line in the people you hire as finding people with experience is important as there is not a lot of time for training. Too much experience can also be a detriment as this can lead to people being too set in their ways. The determining factor in finding the right formula is to hire people with some experience but hire on attitude not ability. The cultural fit within the startup is what matters most.”

-Mike Kind, CEO at StanData Technology, https://standata.com/  


“What we look for at Datazoom when bringing on new hires is what our team calls a “street taco” 

attitude. When you’re in a startup, people often have to wear many hats, processes have not yet been created or flushed out fully, and documents such as websites or marketing materials or case studies might not be readily available. Today’s street tacos are gourmet food served out of a food truck — the ingredients are fresh and delicious, and you’ll leave full, but you don’t get the white glove treatment you would at a dine-in restaurant. Someone that has a “street taco” attitude will do what it takes to get things done by filling any gaps and resolving challenges along the way. They feel very comfortable (even thrive) working in an unstructured environment. Hiring someone with 15 years of experience might be tempting, but it takes a “street taco” attitude to effectively leverage that experience within a small company.”


-Diane Strutner, CEO & founder, Datazoom, https://www.datazoom.io/ 


“In early-stage hiring, I recommend not just looking for people with the specific expertise you need in that moment, but who can evolve with your business. Build a team that is self-motivated, curious, and eager to learn new skills, even if it means stepping outside of their comfort zone. Startups are so dynamic; selecting new hires with diverse skills and interests will set you up to be innovative and you’ll be able to roll with the changing needs of your growing company.” 


–Ben Dowling, Founder and CEO, IPinfo https://ipinfo.io/


“Hiring in an early stage startup boils down to four things – the hustle/excitement during the interview, the flexibility in the person’s responsibilities and role, the growth-driven mindset and the calmness and ability to navigate the uncertainty.

-Brian Parks, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Bigfoot Capital https://www.bigfootcap.com/ 


“A “no job too small” mentality and willingness to roll up sleeves. Everyone who isn’t an engineer should be able to cold call, write copy, conduct interviews and make thoughtful suggestions regardless of job title or function. If someone ever says “that’s not my job”, they aren’t likely to be super successful at an early company

Good listening skills. I personally believe that you should take notes at every meeting and have a way of systematically documenting action items. We do too many things every day. Without a process for listening, people get overwhelmed too quickly and overwhelmed people burn out and don’t have a good work experience.

A life experience where the candidate has experienced significant failure. Candidates often turn the “greatest weakness” interview question into a “greatest strength” redemption story, but I am more interested in people who failed without redemption. People who have failed know that it is a) inevitable and b) not the end of the world. Type A people or perfectionists or people who have only worked at well-known companies with great brands and huge support systems are not used to failing. To be successful at an early-stage startup, you need to be able to tell a story about why your work’s impact matters and fear of failure holds people back from professional growth. A phrase I like to use is: “I am not hiring the person you are today, I am hiring the person you will become after a year of working with us. Help me get really excited about who that person will be.” If people balk at that challenge, then I know they won’t be a good fit, because we ask a lot of our team, and our roles require a growth mentality”

-Edmund Zagorin is founder and CEO of Bid Ops Inc., https://bidops.com/ 


Grit — the first few years of a startup are all about survival. Who are you going to take with you to battle? someone who does not give up when it gets hard.

Growth mindset — a startup is a volatile, unpredictable environment that crunches 10 years into 1. That forces a person to constantly adapt to change, and grow both personally and professionally.

Passion — the only way to wake up every morning and face the difficult, challenging, up-hill battle of a tech startup is to love what you do and be prepared to do the impossible to hit your goal.

Trust & Accountability — a founder is going to make 1000 mistakes, and so are the employees who work for him. Trust and accountability allow for mistakes to happen, and allows the team to move fast and furious.”

– Gil Allouche, co-founder and CEO, metadata.io, http://Metadata.io


“When I think about hiring I think about the difference between culture fit and culture add. When hiring someone new it is important that they fit into your current culture. Someone that doesn’t is like nails on a chalkboard. For a startup that distraction can be crippling. But while culture fit is important, it is equally important that they add something to your culture.

Sharing a new perspective can change the lens from which we view the world. That can make a huge difference when you’re building a company. If you ensure you’re building a corporate culture that seeks out that value add and then you truly listen to those new voices, you will build a company that can have a real impact.”

-Adam Coughlin, co-founder and Managing Partner, York IE (york.ie)

Ralph Paul on Twitter
Ralph Paul
Ralph is the Managing Editor at StartUp Mindset. The StartUp Mindset team consists of dedicated individuals and is designed to help new, seasoned, and aspiring entrepreneurs succeed.

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Ralph is the Managing Editor at StartUp Mindset. The StartUp Mindset team consists of dedicated individuals and is designed to help new, seasoned, and aspiring entrepreneurs succeed.

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