How to build the initial team for an early-stage startup

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Early-stage startup is about working late nights and getting sh*t done. Besides hardworking, a perfect investor pitch should also be in place to take the business to the next level. Doing this stuff with those you ‘had to hire’ would be a huge pain. 

Rather than picture this in your head, use a better approach to find very first employees.

1. Find T-shaped people

T-shaped employees = experienced in one specific area(what they enjoy the most), but willing to tackle other tasks (not belonging to what they can do best) as well. They are curious and ready to take on new challenges. They are able to walk the walk and extra mile to make things work.

Suppose your backend developer might do some feature work. Or your QA tester might be good at writing promotional texts. Or your designer might be responsible for doing market research.

We are not saying ‘Only devs, QAs, and designers’. Expose everyone’s hidden talents to get all the expertise needed

When you’re just starting from scratch, these ‘Jacks of many trades’ will always be way more powerful than ones who have depth in just one topic. Just because if you build a startup with the latter you’ll need n people — no difference what you’re gonna build. If you just start out with T-shaped guys, <n will be required. Crude but accept it.

To find T-shaped employees, ask candidates about things that aren’t relevant to their professional skills during the interview.

For example, when interviewing a potential designer, you can not only ask UI/UX questions but also something related to content marketing or project management.

Let all candidates tell you about team projects where they took part earlier and what they actually did (well at least what they tried to do). If you notice that a potential candidate only talks about himself — that’s a problem. True T-shaped employees mention about how team members helped each other to get all things done — all the ‘We’ stuff will matter in this case.

2. Hire doers

When you just start growing you need more production to protect your business from new incoming competitors. To achieve that one day, you should find several motivated hands-on doers.

To define doers, ask potential candidates HOW TO DO X first and then ask them TO DO X. Yeah, we are talking about this ‘practice>theory’ thing:) Sounds like a cliche but works

For instance, you might prepare coding questions for potential developers or ask sales reps to explain how they would sell software. Then you ask first ones to write real code or pretend you’re a buyer and ask your sales rep candidate to sell you this software.

Beware of employees that belong to ‘dreamers’ group. They might easily generate new ideas and claim to be experts at something or other.

But when it comes to hardworking, they just c̶l̶o̶c̶k̶-̶w̶a̶t̶c̶h̶  stay in the land of fairytales and do nothing

3. Find needed expertise

Whoever you’re looking for, start with people you know. There’s a chance you’ll find first few members within your own network. For a business guy, the best scenario will be like to ask a techie fellow to join.

If you don’t have a techie friend to start a project with, go outside and look for a creative engineer, who’d help you manage all tech-related tasks, such as tech architecture building and backlog prioritizing. To find one, you can try Linkedin, founder2be or CofoundersLab. Attending seminars and meetups, reading technical forums and blogs is also a good option for that.

If you didn’t find devs or designers in the neighborhood, ask offshore employees for help. Outsourcing in the USA will cost you much more than hiring in-house employees, you can find cheaper labor in Eastern Europe or Vietnam though. Wherever your teammates are, check out their hourly rates and take into account time and cultural differences to evaluate if the ones, whom you’re gonna hire, fit your requirements well.

P.S: No matter whom you search for, prioritize

Whether you’re looking for your first, 10th or 100th employee. Take decisions about next hires based on your product’s needs, team members’ skills, values, and budget.

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