One of the most significant steps in the life of any startup (and its founders) is the first hire. The first time a real employee – other than the co-founders – is brought on board, many things change in a company. The co-founders are no longer in it just for themselves. They are now also an employer. Naturally hiring your first employee is an important step that better be well-prepared.
Aside from the challenge of finding and recruiting the right members for your team, another question has to be addressed: “Whom should you hire for your startup?” And who should you not hire? It’s a well-known fact that teams either make or break startup success.
In today’s article, we are going to talk about 10 types of candidates that are the ideal first hire for your startup.
Known Typology: Hacker, Hustler, Hipster
You might have already come across a well-known typology that describes 3 different types of startup employees. Comfortably, they all have an H – hacker, hustler, hipster. The hacker is of course your coder/programming genius. The hustler is your business developer, sales & marketing guy who follows up and closes deals because he keeps pushing through. The hipster on the other hand is your creative thinker, whether designer, copywriter or visuals guy who gives your business the creative pepp it needs to reach the market.
This known typology plays to an important distinction startups have to make. There are generally three different areas that need to be considered for hires. Tech, sales & marketing and creative.
In this article however, we will make a more general description of 10 types of startup employees for the ideal first hire for your startup. They are characterized by their professional experience, their motivation and grit, as well as their desire to work in the startup field.
Here they are…
The Self-Starting Drop-out
I know what you are thinking. A university drop-out may not be the best hire at face value. Looks like he does not follow through. But look at what else they are doing. You may want to remember what Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Michael Dell all have in common. That’s right! They were self-starting drop-outs. Among your applications you might find drop-outs that have self-started with various initiatives, projects or ventures on their own.
Give them a chance. Invite them in. Ask them what they have done. Be curious. Learn more about their motivation. Most likely you will hear about their passion of doing something “for themselves”. While this may not be the most promising motivation for a corporate employee, it can be a great sign of an excellent startup team member.
The Unconventional Fresher
Hiring freshers is a common topic for startups. That has its reasons. After all, startups don’t always need someone with many years of working experience. Rather they need someone who is ambitious, driven and wants to prove their skills and potential. As a short keyword analysis on Google reveals, many freshers (fresh University graduates) explicitly search for startups hiring freshers.
Freshers can make for great startup hires because they are eager to show what they can. However, when you receive applications by freshers, keep an eye out for the unconventional fresher. The kind of graduate that might already have done their own project. Look for entrepreneurial aspirations in their CV. Maybe they have been self-employed before? Worked while they were studying – not just in classical internships. Ask them for their motivation to join a startup. Why are they looking into startups instead of corporate careers?
The Failed Founder
He lives the startup spirit. He has been there, done that. He knows the sacrifice, heart sweat and tears. He even knows and has experienced the “failure” and frustration of not succeeding with one’s venture. Not frequently but sometimes you might find a “failed founder” that wants to join your startup team.
More so than in American mentality, Europeans may be cautious to give this guy another chance. In Europe, we too often see somebody who failed once with their company as being a bad entrepreneur. The truth is of course however that success studies have revealed time and time again most highly successful startup founders started and crashed a number of ventures before they launched their fortune-making one.
Working with a failed founder can be a massively enriching and valuable experience. You literally have someone on your team that might have gone through many of the things already that you are still about to experience. What a treasure!
The vast majority of “failed founders” go back to corporate jobs after their one-time-venture-adventure. It’s only the passionate and driven entrepreneur-types that keep coming back. Be careful of course to have the failed-founder stay in his employee role and not become a co-founder – unless you want to put him there.
The failed founder knows what he is getting himself into. You won’t have to worry about employee retention in your startup with this one.
The Ambitious Assistant
Hiring an administrative assistant as your first employee can be a very wise decision. As a founder you already have more than enough work on your hands. An assistant can take work off your shoulder and free you up for what you should maybe be doing the most: be raising funds, building your network and valuable connections, developing your business.
But don’t just hire any assistant. Hire an ambitious assistant. They can go beyond taking work off your shoulder and take on additional tasks that your business may urgently need to grow. Maybe they have specific talents or prior experience that can come in handy. While most of their work should be spent handling typical administrative tasks like scheduling and documentation, they may be able to deliver more than that.
The right assistant can come on board and bring stability and well-proven processes from a corporate environment. After all, the startup grind is hard and chaotic enough.
The do-it-yourself dude shows his character by doing all kinds of things himself, finding all kinds of crazy solutions and hacks to problems. He is the guy who puts up the big window garden boxes to grow salad in the office or has tweaked his laptop stand to suit it perfectly to his own needs. You want a DIY guy on your team because in the early days you just don’t have the resources to delegate everything to a specialist. So a flexible talent with DIY-attitude will (have to) make ends meet.
He is the type of person you can give any task or challenge to and know: he is going to figure out how and get the job done.
The Motivated Mentee
The motivated mentee is a very special and unique type of first hire for your startup. There aren’t many of them out there, which makes them so extraordinary to encounter. What sets this type of employee apart is his motivation. He is not just looking for a job, or a “startup gig”. His ambition is not driven by professional desire alone.
The motivated mentee – as the title suggests – is looking to work for a mentor. Somebody who will challenge him, sharing experience and knowledge with him, and make him grow by presenting him with new tasks and situations. He realizes that the best and fastest way to grow personally and professionally is to have a great mentor.
For the opportunity to work for such, he will work hard and go the extra mile. There are a couple of things to point out about the motivated mentee. The working relationship with such an employee may be different than with any other employee, but it will very rewarding and special. Mentorship is a process that benefits both parties. While mentees get to learn on the fast track and grow quickly, mentors get to pass on their knowledge and reflect on their own experience.
A few words of caution though. Don’t make them your “mini-me”, but see them as your “startup son”. Don’t expect critical thinking of him, he is your mentee. But he will deliver flawless and passionate execution, not sweating the small things or details. Mentor them and share with them your experience, because they look up to you. You spot them by asking for their motivation during the job interview.
The Connected Community-Chap
The vast majority of startups have their offices in co-working spaces and startup hubs. There are many reasons for that, but one of course being networking effects. The connected community-chap is the kind of guy that thrives on such coworking spaces and hubs.
They are engaged in multiple hubs, take part in startup competitions or attend them for personal interest, hardly ever miss a networking session and can be seen on every startup event in town. While they can bring many valuable skills to the table, the most valuable one may be the contacts he has in the scene. He knows other startups, potentially investors or beta users/sample clients.
He lives and breathes the startup spirit. Naturally this guy probably does best in the sales & marketing, business development field where he can put his network to use for the company’s and his own benefit. Moreover, he may be able to refer other great team members and connections. He might be the perfect first hire for your startup if you are more the tech guy who doesn’t necessarily enjoy networking so much.
The Geeky Genius
He may not be the most popular guy on the team, he may not be the social wizz, but he knows his stuff and facts. And boy he has a passion for it! Many of the greatest founders and startup entrepreneurs out there are geeks. They are known for their intense and deep passion for their field of interest. It is their passion that gives them the strength to deal with and overcome the challenges and hurdles of entrepreneurship.
Give them the opportunity to share their passion with you and in what they do. They will be very thankful for it – and the investment into them will repay itself many times over. When geeks get to follow their passion, they become truly unstoppable hustlers.
The Nerdy ‘Nows-It-All
Yes, nerds aren’t always the greatest people to be around. Their constant smart-assing, their fact-sharing and suggestions can make them a bit annoying. But at least they know their stuff. And not just their stuff. It seems they know it all! Being nerdy is a way of life. Once a nerd, always a nerd. (Nerds differ from geeks by the way in their strong achievement-orientation and in being more studious than necessarily passionate about what they study.).
The nerd is deeply driven by his curiosity combined with a certain compulsive desire to know it all. They gather facts, they suck up information, they meticulously study details and be sure to remember them for the long-term. These are all traits you absolutely want to have on your startup team!
Nerds are typically very detail-oriented and conscientious people. They don’t sweat the details, they see the nuances and subtleties other people tend to overlook. This can be especially valuable for the busy startup everyday in which you as the founder may sometimes be too busy and at risk of overlooking or forgetting about one or the other small aspect.
That’s also how you will spot a nerd. You recognize them by their detailed answers to your interviewing questions, by their lengthy and positive descriptions of their University studies, their extracurricular activities or that fascinating seminar they visited proactively on weekends. Nerds come in all shapes and sizes, they can be hackers or hipsters, maybe a little less on the hustler-side.
The Hands-On Hacker
If you are a tech startup, it goes without saying that an excellent coder/developer on your team is an absolute must. And in case you don’t have an experienced developer in the founding team, then your ideal first hire should most likely be a passionate and action-oriented developer. In other words, a “hands-on hacker”.
By that I mean a coder who has already taken part in hackathons because he is passionate about coding. Sure, he might have used one or the other black-hat-technique in his time, but after all, he pretty much thinks in code. Whether he has coded pages, plugins or programs – look for someone who does it out of an inner drive, not just because he was paid for it.
Finding ideal first hires for your startup can be a challenging and daunting task. After all, you may never have done hiring and recruiting before. As startups live or die with their team members, you can’t afford to make a wrong hire. Consider the 10 startup-types described in this post. Look for the signs and when you find them, give them a closer look and consider to give them the gig. They may just be that one super-talent to send your company through the roof.