If you are thinking that hiring the first employee in a startup is an easy task, it is because you have never started your own business and need to experience it first hand to realize its importance. Adding the first external start up employee to our team of co-founders is a challenging and significant decision. It must be implemented successfully if we would like to avoid problems in the short, mid and long term.
Every person that we hire and who begins to work with us contributes, in one way or another, to the culture and environment of our entrepreneurship. We simply cannot afford to add a person that brings distrust, insecurity, bad habits or irresponsibility.
Unfortunately, we had a bad experience and based on this we want to share our learning through the following key points:
1) Focus on doing:
To begin, the first and foremost advice, especially at the beginning, is to focus on hiring people whose profile is that of a consistent doer, without letting distraction get in the way of their activities.
What does this mean? Basically, as entrepreneurs, we have enough daily responsibilities to keep adding more of them to our work. That’s why we need to look for a candidate that can be defined as “doer” or a “thinker”.
A “doer” is a person who prefers to work with a line of action (a process), where everything is clear from the beginning. On the other hand, a “thinker” is characterized by focusing on new ideas and constantly challenging structures and procedures.
In some circumstances, these features of the “thinker” are extremely useful; however, over time we will realize that we founders can take that role. At the end of the day what we need is a person that works a lot and implements the day-to-day tasks in a concrete, effective, repetitive and predictable way (no surprises!).
Particularly with the first employees, we must observe their ability to successfully implement a process without the constant need of our help. The characteristic of an “autonomous” person is crucial at this stage. The idea and ultimate goal is to reduce our operative tasks and to delegate them, in order to have more time to focus on high-level strategic activities that are indispensable to keep growing.
Look for “doers” if you want to see your business grow and scale in the long-term; we need them to help us in the difficult tasks. Generally the fittest for this role are engineers and accountants in the hard sciences.
In the second place, it is important to understand that not everyone is like us entrepreneurs. Many people prefer a stable life without constant ups and downs as the experienced in a start up.
There are people who like to know exactly what they will have to do in each working day, when, where and under what parameters they will do it, and how much time it will take, without alterations in the short term.
Unfortunately, in a venture we cannot hire a person who needs job security because we will cause harm to both the individual and our enterprise. These profiles are suitable for large national or international corporations (whether a bank, or an insurance o building company, among others) that have already defined the working procedure.
As we analyzed in the previous section, we need people that implement steps consistently and at the same time have the ability and, more importantly, the willingness to adapt to the constant changes that take place in ventures.
In the life of a startup, we experience many changes. For example, sometimes it is necessary to change our office location; stop working at home and start working at a local office, or maybe with unknown people in a foreign country. Other times it may be needed to reduce the salary or accept a delay in payments; and why not think about changing the role to a new one according to the company necessities, for example from “Customer and Suppliers” to “Community Manager”.
Is in this kind of moments where a fundamental attribute is important: self-learning. Each new employee, especially the first ones, should have the virtue of being able to learn new disciplines by themselves to stand the day-to-day life in a start up.
Based on the latter point, we made the mistake of hiring people with great experience and knowledge but with a great aversion to change. They were used to make the same kind of task and sincerely they did not want to learn new ones required by any growing business.
Based on this, from now on, we prefer and recommend to other entrepreneurs to focus first on intellectual and talented young people that just finished college. While having prior experience, they have the energy and desire to learn, and they are able to adapt to constant change, to improve continuously and to better themselves; all these features help to enhance our enterprise.
Lastly, I wanted to leave for the end this factor that I personally consider strategic for a start up.
The reality is that when we are developing a new business from scratch and we are in the middle of the accelerated growth stage, at most we have time to do the activities that the start up demands.
That is why, at the time of auditing or controlling, we will realize that we have no more time or strength left.
If we have, for example, an e-commerce venture and we spent all day taking orders and sending products from the garage of our house, at the end of the day it is impossible to make an exhaustive check on the materials / products sent, since there is no time or willingness left to do it
For these kinds of situations we need to hire people we trust wholeheartedly to let them do their job. It is clear that after a while we will be able to implement a professional control stock system, but meanwhile we need confidence to grow.
One of the ways by which we hire trustworthy people is by focusing on our circle of family, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, acquaintances of a lifetime, sports mates, and former school mates, among others.
Something I would like to recommend and that gave us new and great choices is to use Open Graph, the search box on Facebook, to find people that maybe we never thought could guarantee us a high degree of confidence. In this way we seek by profession, for example “Web Designers” who are in our network, or even better, that are friends of our own friends. Thus, our action network expands considerably.
As conclusion, we must first know that hiring our first employee is not a simple task and must be taken with responsibly, investing time and dedication to achieve a good result. As we saw, there are several aspects to take into account, but focusing on a “doer” that is flexible and trustworthy is a fundamental aspect.
Authors: Cristian Rennella is an engineer and Virgina Gonzalez is Co-Founder of elMejorTrato.com.