How to Staff Your Startup Team
Every entrepreneur who has succeeded or failed (is there a difference?) has advice about how to get the right people on the bus. What questions should you ask at the interview? What character traits should you seek and how do you do that? How much is science and how much is just going with your gut and whether you click?
Likewise, advisors or potential employees want to find the right fit as well. The rules are somewhat different when it comes to the board of directors, the management team, employees, consultants and advisors.
Maybe flipping a coin or a job lottery would save a bunch of time and money and get the same results.
I’ve been on both sides of the table so allow me share my two cents on how to staff your startup:
1. Hope for the best and expect to fire fast. Give yourself lots of wiggle room.
2. Don’t hire hood ornaments (doctors with fancy credentials that you parade on your website and pitch deck) unless you simply need one for credibility and really don’t expect them to do much more.
3. Clarify expectations, timelines and benchmarks
4. Rent advisors, don’t buy them
5. Barter, don’t rent, if possible
6. Expect most people to put a hand up, not show up
7. Define your next critical success factor (like raising 2M dollars in seed money) and find people who can help get it done. Once it’s done, stop and empty the bus, and reload. For example, suppose your company has achievements to date that include FDA 510(k) submission, provisional and non-provisional patent filing (there is no such thing as a non-provisional patent granted by the USPTO), and patent attorney freedom-to-operate letter (here’s what that is). You have raised $200,000 from angel investors and are currently raising $1.5M in the current seed round with a valuation of $10M. Who do you want to help, how and how much will you compensate them and for how long?
8. Don’t give away the store early in the game. If you are successful, you’ll have to give it away to get the money anyway so keep your powder dry
9. Hire people who are card carrying members of the Get Shit Done Club
11. Be careful about hiring interns since there are practical and labor law issues that can make your life more complicated than it already is or is going to be. Internships are supposed to be about helping the intern. You want people who primary purpose is to help your company as much and as soon as possible
12. Don’t overhire for quality or quantity. Do you really need to hire that expensive CFO when what you really need is someone to keep the books and do payroll at this stage of the game? What about business development, sales and marketing?
13. Figure out whether you are hiring someone, or joining someone, to help with strategy or tactics. At the beginning, it is usually a cacophany of both. As the company validates its model, though, there is the risk of the distraction of traction. For a surgical benefits management company, for example, you need to focus and define your SCOPE.
14. The single most important question you can ask yourself is, “Do I like and trust these people?” The second is, “Can I deliver what they want, or am I just doing this to stroke my ego and make some bucks?”
15. If you had one more day to live, would you spend it in a co-working space wearing a hoodie? How about training and hiring felons?
17. Don’t hire doctors to sell your products. They don’t know how to do it.
This on-demand talent model, dubbed SPEED by the author (Success, Plan, Execute, Evaluate, Decide), is good for the company, and good for all specialized, dedicated, and high performing people in the workforce today. Your company gets the flexibility to adapt quickly to the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace, and workers get to broaden their experience in the work they love.
One empirical analysis shows that companies that are equipped with both business and technical skills are disproportionately more likely to introduce new-to-the market innovations than firms that have only one of these skills. However, not all firms that are equipped with both types of skills are able to profit from them. Firms profit disproportionately from a mix of business and technical skills when the founder has technical knowledge and employs additional business experts. By contrast, we find no evidence of complimentary either when business and technical skills are balanced within a founding team, or when a founder with business skills hires employees with technical skills.
Entrepreneurial startup success is about entrepreneurial startup TEAMwork i.e.finding the people:
- Who have Talent
- Who can Execute
- Who can Articulate a vision, mission, values and strategy
- Who know how to raise, manage, protect and make large sums of Money
That means you will have to find people who play some skill positions like problem seeker, problem solver, money finder, score keeper, product developer, business builder, dot connector, risk manager and story teller.
How do you compensate these people without breaking the startup bank? Here are some ideas.
Hiring the right people makes the difference between fun and misery. Plan to make lots of mistakes and fire fast. Pivoting often means taking casualties.
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