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How to Hire for Your Startup: The First 8 People You Should Hire

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

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

  • It's smart to hire from the top, then expand your team when your resources allow.
  • A major focus when hiring for startup roles is strengthening your business's internal and external relationships.
  • It's important to keep your company culture in mind when filling startup positions.
  • This story is for new business owners who are looking to expand their team.

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, pose questions that probe a person's drive and how well suited they might be with your company's culture. In addition, use hands-on simulations to get a sense for how the candidate will act in common work situations. [Looking to bring on some new employees? Check out our recommendations for the best recruiting software.]

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."

8 startup roles to hire

There are quite a few startup roles you’ll want to fill immediately. Here are eight important ones to consider:

1. Chief executive officer (CEO) and chief operations officer (COO)

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.

2. Product manager

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.

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."

3. Chief technology officer (CTO) and VP of engineering hybrid

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.

4. Chief marketing officer (CMO) and community manager hybrid

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 product development.

5. Sales manager

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 [it is] 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.

6. Chief financial officer (CFO)

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."

7. Business development manager

While similar to the sales manager, a business development manager finds ways to grow your business from both a marketing and sales standpoint. For example, this professional might focus on developing relationships or partnerships with other businesses to increase revenue and potential for growth.

A good business development manager identifies new business opportunities, both within your organization and with other companies. In doing so, they'll consider new markets, areas where you might expand/grow, new partnerships, ways to reach other existing markets, and ways to appeal to ideal customers.

For example, perhaps a competitor is offering a product or service you haven't yet considered. Your business development manager will look for ways to not only keep up with their offerings but also set you aside from them to attract more attention to your brand.

8. Customer service representative

Customer service is a critical task every business should master. Building positive relationships with your customers and clients is the cornerstone of your brand.

It doesn't matter how great your products or services are if your business isn't effectively communicating with its customers and clients. Without a professional handling customer questions, calls, or concerns, your reputation will inevitably suffer. This is a role you’ll want to fill as soon as possible.

Key takeaway: The first positions to hire include CEO/COO, product manager, CTO, CMO, sales manager, CFO, business development manager and customer service representative.

Importance of hiring the right startup roles

A major focus in startup roles is strengthening your internal relationships (between employees) as well as external ones (between other companies and customers/clients).

Without filling these roles, your company will have no direction and lack strong leadership. In fact, 65% of business failures are due to management issues. That's why it's crucial to start at the top, then expand your team when your resources allow.

When filling these roles, it’s important to consider your business's goals and values. Defining these allows you to find better matches and narrow down the skills and qualities you’re looking for in workers.

Key takeaway: When hiring for startup roles, look for individuals who will strengthen your leadership and accurately represent your brand.

Positions to outsource

Several roles 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 bring these additional services in house.

Key takeaway: Only outsource roles that are not considered essential to your core business.

Company culture

When hiring staff, ensure that your employees embody your company vision, mission 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.

Key takeaway: Make sure to match candidates with your company's missions, values and culture before hiring them.

Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela.

Image Credit: Inside Creative House / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.