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Updated May 16, 2024

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

Focus on these roles when you're getting your business off the ground.

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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You made your entrepreneurial dreams come true by creating a product or service and starting a business. As you begin making money and seeing growth opportunities, you may realize it’s time to hire employees. 

While you may be chomping at the bit to get more talent on your team, it’s essential to take your time and vet candidates thoroughly. Your business’s needs and budget will dictate the roles you must fill, but any employee you hire should have several essential qualities, including flexibility, passion and trustworthiness. We’ll highlight eight roles to focus on when you begin the hiring process and share tips for finding the right team members for your new venture. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Hiring employees is costly and time-consuming. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average employer spends about $4,700 on hiring a new worker. According to the Employ Recruiter Nation Report, businesses spend an average of 47.5 days filling an open position.

8 startup roles to hire

After starting a business, you’ll want to fill specific roles immediately. Here are eight crucial positions to focus on when you begin the hiring process.

1. CEO and chief operations officer (COO)

graphic of two businesspeople shaking hands

The CEO and COO are two of the most essential players in your business. The CEO is typically the big-picture person who controls the company’s direction, vision and culture. In contrast, the COO primarily focuses on the day-to-day operations that keep your business running.

You can hire externally for these positions, but the company’s founders typically assume these C-suite executive responsibilities, so we’re including them together in this category. Tierra Wilson, co-founder and CMO of Lovely Impact, recommends starting as the CEO of your business before hiring out. If you and your co-founders already plan to take on these titles and responsibilities, hire the following seven positions next.

2. Product manager

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

Founders often begin as a startup’s default product managers. They’re invested heavily in their product or service and may be reluctant to hire a product manager initially. However, when the company is ready financially, this extra set of hands can make a huge difference.

Hiring a product manager allows founders to examine training and documentation more critically as they prepare someone else to take over specific tasks. This move also frees time and allows founders to begin focusing on growth and achievable business goals.

3. Chief technology officer and vice president of engineering hybrid

A team member specializing 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 and take advantage of online tech support, having someone on your internal team take charge of this sector is helpful. You can split this role into two separate positions as your team grows.

“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,” explained Sue Andrews, business and human resources (HR) consultant at KIS Finance. “They’ll need to consider everything from hardware to software and mobile technology.”

Andrews said this team member can also take the lead in creating your online presence by building an effective website. They can also split this responsibility with your marketing manager.

4. Chief marketing officer and community manager hybrid

This team member will focus on your customers and how they view your product or service. Andrews said hiring an expert with excellent small business marketing expertise and promotional skills is essential to ensure your vision reaches the right marketing demographics.

“Find a marketing manager that is a jack-of-all-trades,” advised 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.”

This individual should focus on customer engagement by getting to know your target audience. They can also act as an interim community manager to maintain positive relationships between your business and its customers. This team member will work with the product manager to incorporate customer feedback into product development.

5. Sales manager

graphic of a businessperson inside of a large funnel

This team member will focus on generating new leads and bringing in money for your company. It’s a crucial role because 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,” Wilson recommended. “This is probably the hardest position to hire for, but [it is] worth the time and effort to get the right person.”

A skilled sales manager with experience in your industry typically won’t require much training to generate leads and drive sales for your venture.

6. Chief financial officer (CFO)

Experts often recommend that startups outsource their accounting and finance roles. However, if you can hire a CFO, your startup will benefit from their expert help when getting a bank loan and otherwise securing and managing finances. 

“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,” Andrews advised. “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.” 

TipTip
When evaluating your small business startup costs, factor in expenses like office rent, website hosting, insurance, advertising and promotion and essential supplies and technology.

7. Business development manager

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

A good business development manager identifies new business opportunities within your organization and with other companies. They’ll consider new markets, areas where you might expand, new partnerships, ways to reach other existing markets and ways to appeal to your target customers.

For example, a competitor may offer a product or service you haven’t yet considered. Your business development manager will look for ways to keep up with their offerings and set you apart to attract more attention to your brand.

8. Customer service representative

Every business needs effective customer service solutions. After all, 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 doesn’t effectively communicate with its customers. Without a professional handling customer questions, calls or concerns, your reputation will inevitably suffer. You’ll want to fill the customer service representative role as soon as possible.

How to find the right people for your startup

Every new employee can significantly impact a startup, so it’s crucial to hire people you trust. Andrews said word-of-mouth recommendations are the best way to find your initial team members. Connect with colleagues, friends and people from your college alumni network to find those first candidates. 

“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 suggested. “Good agencies will have contacts in the relevant market area and should be able to help you find appropriately qualified and suitable staff.”

TipTip
Hiring for a cultural fit is crucial, so pose interview questions that help you determine if the candidate's beliefs and behaviors align with your business's core values.

graphic of businesspeople in a modern office

Importance of hiring the right startup roles

Startup roles are critical because these individuals help form your company culture. New hires have the potential to strengthen internal relationships between team members and external relationships with vendors, customers and other stakeholders.

Without filling crucial startup roles, your company will lack direction and strong leadership. When hiring, it’s critical to start at the top and expand your team when resources allow.

When filling essential startup roles, consider your business’s goals and values to find better matches and focus on the skills and qualities you’re looking for in workers.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to CareerBuilder, a bad hire can cost your business an average of $17,000 — and bad hires at higher-level positions can cost even more.

Why startup employees need to fulfill multiple roles

Working for a startup is different from working for an established business. Startups are often strapped for resources and tend to grow and change rapidly. Because of this, their employees’ day-to-day responsibilities often evolve in tandem. 

Startups should hire multitalented employees who are flexible and ready to take on new projects as needed. Because startups can be unpredictable, their employees should thrive in changing environments instead of seeking repetition and stability.

Since startups are in the “growing” phase and don’t yet have an employee for every role, startup employees typically fill more than one role. This common occurrence comes with its own set of benefits and limitations.

Benefits and limitations of employees filling multiple roles

These are some of the benefits of having an employee fill multiple roles:

  • You keep your staffing costs down.
  • Employees understand multiple facets of your business.
  • Employees can problem-solve in various areas of the business.

Meanwhile, these are some limitations of an employee filling multiple roles:

  • Team members can become overworked, resulting in destructive employee burnout
  • Employees may perform tasks they don’t want to do (or weren’t trained to do), reducing employee engagement and job satisfaction.
  • Employees may be less productive if they frequently switch roles or learn new tasks.

Startup positions to outsource

graphic of a businessperson working on a computer

Some roles can be outsourced to freelancers and external services. Experts say business owners should outsource anything they aren’t great at as soon as possible.

Here are a few common roles many startups outsource:

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

As a rule of thumb, any occupation essential to your core business should be filled internally, while anything nonessential can be outsourced. As your team grows, you may bring these additional services in-house. 

How the first hires will shape your startup’s company culture

When hiring staff, ensure your new employees embody your company mission and vision statement as well as your organizational culture. Andrews said hiring staff members with the right values is as essential as finding those with the right skills because these early recruits will influence your company culture for the foreseeable future.

“If you get this wrong at the beginning, it’s really hard to correct further down the line,” Andrews cautioned. “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, set aside time periodically to review the current state of your scaling venture. Hold regular discussions about what’s working and what’s not so everyone understands what success looks like. These talks will help set expectations and ensure everyone is aligned when making business decisions.

Hire slow but smart

While it’s exciting to watch your startup business grow, there’s no need to rush the hiring process when it’s time for new employees. Having the right people in place early on is critical to developing your culture, brand and future business goals. Take time to consider what roles you need and how filling those roles will help you meet major business objectives — then proceed to hire accordingly. 

Casey Conway and Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

author image
Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
Skye Schooley is a business expert with a passion for all things human resources and digital marketing. She's spent 10 years working with clients on employee recruitment and customer acquisition, ensuring companies and small business owners are equipped with the information they need to find the right talent and market their services. In recent years, Schooley has largely focused on analyzing HR software products and other human resources solutions to lead businesses to the right tools for managing personnel responsibilities and maintaining strong company cultures. Schooley, who holds a degree in business communications, excels at breaking down complex topics into reader-friendly guides and enjoys interviewing business consultants for new insights. Her work has appeared in a variety of formats, including long-form videos, YouTube Shorts and newsletter segments.
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