Tech founders: who should you hire first?
You had an idea, then founded a company. Maybe you’re still flying solo (that’s one employee down), or had a cofounder, or a mentor—in every case, the day comes when you need to hire a real team.
In the beginning, it was all about adding new features, making things faster and polishing a product. Those details consumed you. How do you step back to look at the big picture and strategize next steps?
You know you need to hire if you want to grow. When it comes to those quintessential hires for the new office, however, you don’t have the budget to hire everyone at once.
Where should your priority be?
What’s the existing tech founder trend?
Most startup founders are people with big ideas and little-to-no hiring experience. And with statistics like the CB Insights Report that 23% of startups fail due to “not having the right team” (the third most common reason why startups don’t make it), it’s easy to feel discouraged.
The early days at your startup are exciting, but they’re also lean. And while you can’t afford to hire everyone at once, this actually works in your favor. Focus on hiring people in the right order, and you’ll be able to devote time to ensuring each hire is the right hire.
Hiring your team in the right order also:
- Ensures greater efficiency as your company grows
- Helps you stay focused on the right things at the right time
- Makes delegating one heck of a lot easier
What’s the [real] need for tech startups ready to hire?
I’ll break down the four essential hires for a tech startup, plus why you should hire them in this order. The first hire helps the next, who helps the next…you’ll see how it all comes together.
And remember, these first hires will also start to create your company culture. Being a startup can make recruiting harder (without a known “brand” for candidates to buy into), but hiring role-by-role means you can devote the time to really imagine how each unique candidate will tangibly build the company culture you need.
The administrative assistant
You can’t do it alone anymore. Everyone else is saying, “sales, sales, sales!” with the prospect of your almost-ready product about to hit the market. But as a solo founder, if you’re not working optimally, crucial stuff isn’t going to get done.
Your admin assistant will be the person who keeps everything running while you focus on product and growth. On a small team, an admin assistant acts as much as office manager as he or she does as administrative support for you. This person can handle everything from calendar support to coordinating a team lunch. Cloud storage can finally be controlled and organized, procedures can get put on paper, and activities can run more smoothly for your growing team and to-dos.
Consider your admin assistant your “second set of eyes and hands” to keep a pulse on everything at the office. This paints the picture of why you need to hire this person first, too. Ideally, your assistant will be able to help tackle payroll and other basic HR functions when you start hiring the rest of the team.
Let me put it this way: a single unanswered investor call or missed appointment on your calendar can be hugely detrimental for a startup at this stage. Your admin assistant helps keep stuff on-track and under control. If you hire anyone before this person, taking on additional management or oversight without the help of an assistant will leave you overwhelmed, so don’t do it. Find that admin assistant first.
After you have your admin assistant hired and trained, a marketing strategist is the next person to bring on. Put simply, a marketing plan takes time, and content takes time to map out. Your marketing strategist will take care of the strategies around generating market demand while you continue building out the best product.
Sales will be important, too, but a marketing plan needs to be in development first so your sales person has content to work with and insights on the avatar to target.
Can you answer, who is your target audience? How are you going to reach them? It will not matter how revolutionary your product is if no one can find it.
Where your admin assistant is your right-hand-man or woman, these marketing strategists can sometimes be brought in on a contract basis. Outsourced CMOs are common, and often come with more experience having worked with other tech startups.
Customer support representative
You have the office help you need and you have the marketing plan in progress. It’s starting to get real, isn’t it? Next, you need your customer support representative in place ahead of time (to be trained in for those user inquiries when your product goes live).
When looking for a customer service rock star, remember what a big impact each employee has on your company culture at this stage. This customer service rep ultimately will have the biggest impact on your brand reputation with customers. He or she will be the voice of your brand for new users.
Look for a strong communicator with a curious mind. He or she will have to be the end-all expert for the use of your product, and can even play a key role in fielding questions from investors and staff.
Finally, the sales representative. The right salesperson will more than justify the salary with revenue brought in, so be transparent about what you can offer when you start looking for your rep but don’t pinch pennies, either.
That said, erring a little on the more conservative, “we’re-working-with-a-startup-budget” approach can also help you find the sales superstar who’s ready to invest in your product and bring on the right initial client base. When the commission carrot is too tempting, some sales professions veer in the direction of closing too many sales without identifying your best customers to bring on first.
You can’t afford a bad hire. According to recent Career Builder research, one bad hire can cost a startup upwards of $50,000, not to mention a loss in revenue and a major dent to your newborn company culture.
It’s crucial to get these first hires right.
Intimidated? Don’t be. Thinking about taking on some of these responsibilities yourself? Ask yourself if the consequences to your time and focus on the product are really worth it.
If you have any lingering doubts, these hiring decisions are not something you can afford to get wrong. If there’s something thing specific about your startup I didn’t answer here, reach out to me now. With the right footing, you’ll stay fixed on the path to growth.