The 4 principles of hiring an omnipotent founding team for your startup

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The need to find the right founding team is critical

In 2008, two young East Indian men, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah, launched Foodiebay, a restaurant review and guide for Delhi, India. Today, the company has expanded to 24 countries and is now known as Zomato. They now offer online ordering and delivery, serving over 50 million users around the globe every month. It’s a huge success story.

However, their success didn’t come easy. According to Goyal, one of the biggest challenges was finding the right people to “fuel growth.” In his own words, “It has been like looking for a white glove in a snowstorm … to ensure that people fit in well in terms of skill, culture, and attitude.”

Even in this day of technology and a variety of startup approaches, the need to find the right founding team is critical. A startup is fragile, and there is no room for conflict among the few who must collaborate and make major decisions together.

The good news is that there are some guiding principles that you should follow to gather a rockstar team, who will bring the most value as you launch and grow.

1. Assess Your Own Strengths First

The new business comes from an idea you have had – a product or service that you believe is marketable.

You also know that you have certain strengths. You may be a great idea person, but in terms of founding a startup and growing a business, you definitely have areas of challenge.

In a recent study reported in Harvard Business Review, successful founders who are high in technical skills quickly hire associates skilled in business. They know they lack the full array of talent that it takes to get a business up and running. The researchers, in fact, quote Steve jobs, who stated that the first 10 hires each make up 10% of the company, and they must be “A-list” people.

Identify those areas in which you know you will face challenges. Perhaps it is developing a business plan; maybe it’s in the area of finding experts in marketing, investor funding, or financial management. What you need are individuals who can fill in the “gaps” for the skills you lack.

2. Hire Decision-Makers, Not Task-Completers

Your founding hires will be in charge of departments. Those who have had careers in which they have simply completed tasks or projects that others have designed will not be a “fit.” Find people who actually designed the projects or tasks.

Also read: 4 key attributes of fundable founding teams

As Fan Bi, CEO of Blank Label, puts it: “Your founding team members need to be creators. After all, they’re tasked with designing your departments from scratch.” Hence, you should be  looking for innovators and creators, not followers. These individuals may have worked for other organizations, but their resumes must show leadership in project innovation, “out of the box” thinking, and the willingness to take risks, even if there are failures.

3. Streamline Your Hiring Process by Using The Right Tools and Resources

Most likely, you won’t attract the right candidates by simply posting on traditional job boards. The kind of the crowd you are looking for may be already employed or pursuing their own passion projects.

As well, your hiring timeline may be limited as you will want to hire the right people as soon as possible to get the project off the ground, instead of spending months going through a pile of CVs and scheduling interviews.

Instead of going the traditional hiring route, try the following instead:

  • Join niche communities and ask for referrals. Angel.co and Entrepreneur Subreddit are good places to make initial connections, browse possible candidates and pitch your company to interested prospects.
  • Choose niche job boards over general ones. Not all candidates may be open to working from a co-working space or remotely, or get hired without an initial lavish benefit package. So to weed out those, looking for a “traditional” job arrangement, post your ad on boards catering towards a more startup crowd e.g. RemoteOK, Hacker News Jobs and CrunchBoard.
  • To avoid getting swapped with an incoming applications, use Greenhouse to streamline your process. The tool will allow you to design a custom hiring process for your company and assess each candidate based on custom parameters e.g. create a scorecard of key attributes for an ideal hire; collect structured data about all the applicants that will be leveraged for final decision making etc.
  • Finally, don’t forget the networks and contacts that you have already developed during school or employment. Get in touch with the folks you admire, introduce your company and ask whether they may know a good “fit”.

4. Use Initial Hires as Resources

Once you have found a one or two great hires, use them as resources to recommend other potential founding team members. They have a good feel for what you are looking for. Employee referrals also tend to have the highest applicant to hire conversion rate – only 7% apply, but this typically accounts for 40% of all hires.

And include your key hires in your other hiring processes. Remember, everyone must feel good about who is coming on board.

In the end, when hiring the initial team you will have to trust your gut a great deal. You can look for the skills and talents you need; you can interview and test; you can pursue those who are recommended. But your gut will tell you a lot too. When you are genuinely excited after having met with a potential hire, you probably have found a “winner.”

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