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The First 5: How to Hire Those Critical Early Employees

By: Rameet Chawla



Similar to the foundation of a house, the founding team of a startup ultimately determines its future and potential for success—it’s the base on which the rest of the business will be built. Without a strong, durable, and well-balanced founding team there for support, a startup could crumble under the pressures of entrepreneurship. Just one weak link can hurt the entire operation.

Needless to say, smart hiring in the early stages of a business is the key to establishing a strong company, and the first five employees you hire will be critical in growing your startup.
The Five People You Need on Your Founding Team
Every company will have different specific needs, but almost every startup must fill these crucial roles:
  1. Business Evangelist: A business “evangelist” is someone who can talk about your company, get your name out there, schmooze with the press, and handle sales. This role requires expertise in your field so clients and peers feel respect for and confidence in your business. These people go beyond cold calls and conferences to win over difficult clients.
  2. Creative Lead: This is a person you must be able to trust to lead all creative efforts. Good design isn’t the sole determinant of success, but it does increase conversions and brand awareness. Make sure the style reflected in a potential candidate’s portfolio is a good fit for your brand’s aesthetic.
  3. Tech Lead: Technology is often one of the most important areas for a startup, which is why it represents one of the most critical hires. The first person Jeff Bezos hired at Amazon, Shel Kaphan, was a software developer who wired equipment, wrote code, and worked to perfect smooth and reliable transactions. Technology talent is in high demand, but it’s important to be persistent to find the right person to support your needs.
  4. Product Lead: Practicality and quality are essential to continued success. Product leads ensure that a quality product will be delivered. They connect global needs with essential details. They’re creative, but they can also put the technical information in context. Most of the best product leads have strong design and technical backgrounds.
  5. Jack-of-All-Trades: This utility person handles everything else that needs to get done in the organization that might not specifically be on one person’s agenda. This could include handling paperwork and trademark filings, finding vendors, processing accounting, setting up meetings, paying invoices, and doing anything else that can be taken off the team’s plate.
Find the Perfect Hire Using the “Airport Test”
Hiring for a startup is difficult because you initially need people who can wear several hats. With many new companies, only a handful of employees handle all the responsibilities, even if they’ve had limited experience in areas like sales or tech.
Eventually, though, these utility players will be able to focus on their specialized skills. Generalists can later become liabilities if they cannot find their niche.
You must also find employees who can pass the “airport test.” If you were stranded in an airport for 12 hours, would you want to be with that person? Your work environment should be dynamic and friendly. If a new hire doesn’t work well with others or fit in with your company’s culture, she can set everything back. If you can say “yes” to the airport test, that employee is most likely a good fit for your business.
You need to fulfill essential roles for your new business‘s operations, but you also want a positive, energetic presence in your company. The first five employees you hire will set the standard for the rest of your hires and establish the tone of your company. So be picky.
Finding and maintaining a founding team can be incredibly difficult. What strategies have you used to ensure your first hires can help you build your business?
Published: April 8, 2014

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Rameet Chawla

Mr. Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, a mobile design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 25 startups in downtown Manhattan. Combining a decade of experience architecting Web and mobile applications with his innate sense of style, Chawla has created apps for a wide range of industry clients, from high-end fashion brands to successful tech startups. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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