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Grow Your Business Your Team

How to Hire for Your Startup: First 5 People You Should Hire

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You created a product or service, you started your business, and you finally began making a little money – now it's time to hire your first employees. Figuring out who those people should be, however, is easier said than done.

While you might be chomping at the bit to get some more talent on your team, money is typically tight for startups, so it is important not to rush through the process. You want to hire slowly and vet your candidates thoroughly.

The people you hire will depend on your business's specific needs, but any employee you hire should have a few key qualities: flexibility, passion and trustworthiness. It is important to hire people who are flexible enough to take on diverse responsibilities until you can expand further. When interviewing new-hire candidates, avoid traditional interviewing methods in favor of hands-on simulations, drive and culture fit.  

Since every employee can have a huge impact on a startup, it is important to hire people you trust. Sue Andrews, business and HR consultant at KIS Finance, said the best way to find your initial team members is by word of mouth and personal recommendations. This can be done by connecting with old colleagues, friends and people from your alma mater.

"If that doesn't give you the right results, then a specialist recruitment agency is a good choice to make sure you find people with the exact skills and experience that you need," Andrews told Business News Daily. "Good agencies will have contacts in the relevant area of the market and should be able to help you find appropriately qualified and suitable staff."

To help you find the right hires, here are some of the most commonly suggested first hires for your business.

Two of the most essential players in your business will be the CEO and COO. The CEO is typically the big-picture person who controls the company's direction, vision and culture, whereas the COO is primarily focused on the day-to-day operations to keep your business running.

You can hire externally for these positions, but it is common for the founders of the company to assume these responsibilities. Tierra Wilson, strategic business consultant at Tierra Wilson & Co, recommended that you always start as the CEO of your business before hiring out. If you and your co-founder(s) already plan to take on these titles and responsibilities, look to hire the following five positions next.

The product manager will be your go-to on all things related to your products. This team member manages the product strategy, vision and development. They typically work closely with the engineering and marketing teams to create and market the product.

Dr. Vince Repaci, senior coach at LOVR Atlantic, said that bringing on a product manager can be difficult for founders, as they are typically the initial default product manager and are heavily invested in their own products or services.

"When you [can] afford to bring on a project manager, though, it forces you to change the way you think about the project by documenting and training someone else in it," he said. "This move allows founders to start working on the business rather than in the business."

A team member who specializes in technology and development is crucial to your business's success, especially for tech startups. Although you can hire freelance front-end and back-end engineers, it can be useful to have someone on your internal team to take charge of this sector. As your team grows, this role can be split into two separate positions.

"Having someone with the skills to decide what will work best for your business, as well as overseeing the integration and management of various systems, is key," said Andrews. "They'll need to consider everything from hardware to software and mobile technology." 

Andrews said this team member can also take the lead in building your online presence, although this can be split with your marketing manager as well.

This team member will focus on your customers and how they view your product or service. Andrews said that hiring an expert with excellent marketing and promotional skills is essential to make sure your vision reaches a wide audience.

"Find a marketing manager that is a jack of all trades," said Wilson. "Until you can scale, they should be able to write copy, design collateral, code landing pages, run ad campaigns and handle social media marketing."

Additionally, they should interact with your customers and act as an interim community manager to maintain positive relationships between your business and consumers. This team member can work with the product manager to incorporate customer feedback into the product development.

This team member will focus on generating new leads and bringing in money for your company. Wilson said startups and small business owners who master sales first last longer.

"Hire an amazing sales rep or manager, and then use the money they bring in to hire more people," said Wilson. "This is probably the hardest position to hire for, but worth the time and effort to get the right person."

Repaci said that a skilled sales manager in your industry typically won't require a lot of training to generate leads and close deals.

Experts recommend that startups outsource their accounting and finance roles, but if you have the capability to hire a CFO, it can be extremely helpful for your business.  

"It's essential that you have someone on the team who is responsible for the money and has an eye for detail to manage all aspects of the company's finances," said Andrews. "In the early stages, this will range from major issues, such as securing bank lending and leasing premises, to everyday necessities, such as paying suppliers and managing the petty cash."

There are several roles that can be outsourced to freelancers and external services. Repaci said that business owners should look to outsource anything they aren't great at, as soon as their returns justify the investment.

Here are a few common roles many experts suggest outsourcing:

  • Accountants and financial advisors
  • Administrative workers
  • Attorneys and legal advisors
  • Content writers and digital marketing freelancers
  • Human resources and payroll specialists
  • Web developers, designers and programmers

As a rule of thumb, any occupation that is essential to your core business should be filled internally, while anything that is not essential can be outsourced. As your team grows, Andrews said, you may choose to bring these additional services in-house.

When hiring staff, ensure that your employees embody your company vision statement, mission statement and culture. Andrews said that hiring staff members who have the right values is just as important as finding the right skill set, since they will influence the organization's culture for the future.

"If you get this wrong at the beginning, it's really hard to correct further down the line," she said. "Diversity brings strength to any organization, but it's important to make sure the team has shared values and are able to work well together."

As your team grows, Repaci said, you must set aside time to discuss, agree on and align with the type of company you want. Your team and culture will be the basis for your continued success.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the Northeast, writing for business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.