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.
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 expert who follows up and closes deals. The hipster on the other hand is your creative thinker, whether designer, copywriter, or a visual who gives your business the creative spin 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…
I know what you are thinking. A university drop-out may not be the most suitable hire at face value. Looks like they may not follow through. But look at what else they are doing. You may want to remember what Bill Gates, Muriel Siebert, Elon Musk, and Elizabeth Arden 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 for doing something “for themselves”. While this may not be the most promising motivation for a corporate employee, it can be a great sign of a motivated startup team member.
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 their abilities. 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 lives and breathes the startup spirit. They've been there, done that and are intimately familiar with the sacrifice, sweat, and tears. They even know and have 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 a failed founder 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 their employee role and not become a co-founder – unless that is what you desire. The failed founder knows what they are getting themselves into. You won’t have to worry about employee retention in your startup with this one.
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 shoulders 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 shoulders 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.
This employee is known by their character - doing all kinds of things themselves, finding all kinds of crazy solutions and hacks to problems. They put up the big window garden boxes to grow salad in the office or tweak their laptop stand to suit their needs perfectly. You want a DIY devotee 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. The DIY Devotee are the type of person you can give any task or challenge to and know: they are going to figure out how and get the job done.
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 their motivation. They are not just looking for a job, or a “startup gig”. Their 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 them, sharing experience and knowledge with them, and make them grow by presenting them with new tasks and situations. They realize that the best and fastest way to grow personally and professionally is to have a great mentor. For the opportunity to work for such, they will 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” and don’t expect too much of critical thinking of them. They are your mentee after all. But they 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 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 community connector is the kind of person 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 their contacts. They know other startups, potential investors, or beta users/sample clients. The community connector lives and breathes the startup spirit. Naturally this person probably does best in the sales & marketing or business development field where they can put their network to use for the company’s and their own benefit. Moreover, the connector types may be able to refer to other great team members and connections. They might be the perfect first hire for your startup if you are more of the introverted type who doesn’t necessarily enjoy networking so much.
The geek may not be the most popular person on the team, they may not be the social wizz, but they sure knows their stuff and facts. And with a passion! Many of the greatest founders and startup entrepreneurs out there are geeky geniuses. 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.
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 every day 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.
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 they is passionate about coding. Sure, they might have used one or the other black-hat-technique in their time, but after all, they pretty much think in code. Whether they have coded pages, plugins, or programs – look for someone who does it out of an inner drive, not just because they were 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 giving them the gig. They may just be that one super-talent to send your company through the roof. And when you are ready, make sure you nail the onboarding process and start building the right culture. Did you enjoy this read? Subscribe now to our newsletter & read more every month!
Edit May 2019 // Changed language and imagery to meet The Hub's reviewed guidelines for diverse and inclusive representation.Thank you everyone for your feedback on our content. Feel free to send us more at bit.ly/thehubfeedback.