Picking your people may be the most important early step that you take as a founder of a startup. Yes, the product or service you are selling is important, the name that you choose is important, and getting funding is important, but it is ultimately you and your team who will make the greatest impact on your business. So how do you go about recruiting and selecting the right team members? How do you sell yourself and your idea? What should you be looking for in a partner or employee? Where do you look for candidates? Let’s go through the steps and take a look at some advice from business leaders. Finding candidates can be a difficult task for a startup, particularly one in the very early stages. You have to convince someone to take a risk and believe in your plan, and this is much easier said than done. So what do you need before you start approaching candidates?
First, you will need a well-formed business plan, including the revenue model, market research, and organizational structure at the very least. You need to be able to tell a candidate how the business will make money, what the opportunities and limitations within the market are, and how the company will operate. You should have answers to all of the common questions, things like:
A good candidate is going to have plenty of thoughtful questions and will be evaluating you as much as you are him or her. Be ready to answer those questions before you start approaching candidates.
The next thing you need before you give the candidate your pitch is a great set of company values. Values are often overlooked but are so important to a company, its culture, and its performance. What is most important to you? What does your company stand for? What is the mission?
At my company, Optics Consulting, our core values are candor and trust. We believe that if we are both candid and trusting that our company will operate with integrity, our clients will appreciate the way we do business, and we will stay on mission as a cohesive unit. These values should govern all aspects of your business, from strategic decision-making to day-to-day operations. With these questions answered, you should be ready to start seeking out candidates. But who should you be looking for? In his course on Masterclass, Starbucks founder Howard Schulz urges new businesses to hire values-based team members. According to Howard, partners and employees in a new company must have aligned values and share the same mission. This means asking candidates questions beyond the usual, “tell me about your work experience” and “how will you be able to contribute to the team?”. Make sure that candidates understand your vision for the company, know the values and principles that you intend to build the company around, and are committed to accomplishing the mission you have set. Howard also recommends hiring people who have skillsets that are different from and beyond your own. Bring in as much expertise in as many areas as you can, and then trust your people to make decisions and give you advice. Companies that do this effectively end up with a whole that is greater than the sum of its’ parts. CEO of JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon said in an interview in front of the Stanford Business School, “I don’t want someone loyal to me, I want someone loyal to the institution.” This is important for startup founders especially. If you’ve found someone with shared values, who has a skillset different from and beyond your own, who is loyal to the company above anyone else, you will know that you can trust them to make good decisions at critical junctures. Lisa Su, CEO of semiconductor company AMD, looks for people who want to make a big impact. There is a big difference between people that want to fit in to success and people that want to create success. According to Lisa, to find the people who really want to create success, you need to find people who are risk-takers, self-starters, and do well in a free and often ambiguous environment. It is critical for Startups to find people who embody these characteristics.
Finally, once you know what you’re selling and you know who you’re looking for, you have to know where to look. Many startup founders will start with their personal contacts and within their social circles. Whether it’s colleagues from previous jobs, old schoolmates, or close friends and family, often times founders have all the talent they need already within their social circles. While people often warn against working with family or going in to business with friends, many successful businesses have been built this way and following the advice given so far will help to mitigate the risk of serious problems arising. However, it is often necessary for founders to look outside of their social and professional circles to find the talent the need. In that case, people will often turn to creating job postings on sites like Upwork, Indeed, or LinkedIn. If you are going to take this route there are a few things you should keep in mind. It is very important that you keep your company’s sensitive information confidential. If you are going to present your business plan to a candidate that you don’t know personally, you should seriously consider having them sign an NDA or some other confidentiality agreement. Of all of the scams out in the world, responding to startup job postings in an effort to steal business ideas is not one of the most prominent. However, you have put a lot of work into your idea and you should protect your intellectual property and sensitive information.
Picking the right people is certainly a challenge, but it is one almost every startup must face. If you know what you are selling, who you are looking for, and where to find them, you will be able to build an incredible team and give your startup a great chance at success.