When hiring for my startup: should I prioritize relevant non-startup experience, or general creativity and critical thinking?
Right now, I am interviewing potential hires for my startup. Since my company is young, we could definitely use some fresh ideas and sharp minds to help grow our business. However, it would also be great to hire one or more individuals with industry-specific experience. Would it be a good idea to hire some employees for their expertise and some for their general creativity/skills, or should I just pursue those with the "total package"?
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Hiring people is never black and white, but to help give you a starting framework, what we usually see are 2 different types of hires in the first couple stages of a start-up's growth.
The 1st type are the ones who help shape your ideas & your product, and may or may not possess any specialized skill-sets other than the fact that they can get stuff done, can solve problems, and are comfortable with ambiguity. These are the people you would normally have to pay big salaries to for the amount of value they deliver, but may be willing to take less (or equity) instead because they love a challenge and believe in the vision. Very hard to assess this in a hiring process. Proven experience here is critical.
The 2nd type are the executors. Very early on, you probably need a lot of people who can think outside the box, push the edges, take risks... but as your product becomes more defined and you start to have a clearer grasp of your customer base, the type of people you need changes. You need people who can execute proven processes and procedures, and by nature of executing them also help contribute to a feedback loop that aids in continuous improvement. Hiring these folks means ensuring they prove they have the necessary skills to get the job done - maybe through a standardized exam, or by showing you their portfolio.
How many innovators vs. executors? Depending on your industry, type of product, and the degree to which automation is possible (or feasible), to scale effectively you will need both. But scaling teams is very different than running a small start-up squad of people thinking outside the box. It will require a different mindset, and may require you to think outside of your local talent pool.
Good luck, feel free to reach out if you need more help with hiring tactics for rapid sustainable growth.
Patrick Linton, Founder, BoltonRemote.com.
Credential: I help fast growth companies scale by building remote teams. In the last 12 months I have hired over 150 people both for myself and for start-ups around the world.
Hi Bryan, In my opinion, the professional sports formula is the best way to go. If you own a basketball team, recruit and hire the 12 best damn basketball players that you can afford. Period. Just like a basketball team needs different skill sets, guards v. centers, you can also decide exactly how many true innovators you really need on your team without sacrificing other critical skill sets/functions. Best of luck! Tom
There's some great information fodder here.. I thought I would add my bit to!
Your people will be your greatest asset - always hire for the total package to start with - you really need to find those that are the right fit! BUT make sure you bare in mind that very often those people aren't the ones that necessarily read best on paper. The key for any start is drive, attitude and tenacity to succeed.
Start Ups have different priorities they need serious energy to get them off the ground and you need people that want to inject their energy in doing what ever it takes to get the business moving! Job specs always need to be flexible as do the people you are hiring.
The key is to hire slow make sure the individuals you are offering REALLY get your business and want to help you deliver against you goals and vision to achieve the targets that you need to grow.
Getting the right people on board can make or break a business. So think out side of the usual hiring and interviewing questions, really dig to find out if those you are interviewing are really YOU!
I hope that helps - I'm always happy to have a conversation if you need so feel free to contact me. GOOD LUCK!
Having worked with organisations of varying sizes, I would say that start-ups and larger organisations often have different ways of working. You may find that someone with a corporate background brings ideas of how to develop frameworks to support your growing business which could be helpful, but they may also bring bureaucracy.
In larger organisations people tend to specialise and have deep knowledge about some aspects of the business, whereas you will most likely be looking for people who are prepared to wear different hats as required. You may find people from corporate backgrounds who are looking for the the cut and thrust of a start up and hungry for a change. I would suggest that people who have worked in organisations that have transitioned from where you are now and grown may bring useful expertise.
This is partly to do with having the right attitude - being able to be flexible, tenacious and ultimately put in the graft when required.
You'll also want people who buy into the common purpose of what you are trying to achieve. As a leader, you obviously need to bring in people with different skill sets and ensure that they complement rather than contradict one another. Having people who can bring different perspectives is undoubtedly the best way of working, provided you are able to engage them in a common purpose and enable them to work together. Belbin team roles is a great tool for looking at the types of people you have in your team and ensuring that you have a good mix.
Some people can also burn out on, or get weary of, the start-up merry-go-round, whilst others thrive on it. You're right to identify a combination of expertise and general creativity in my view.
I would use a range of competency-based interview question to assess candidates, and possible some behavioural testing as suggested by Hawk. Depending on skill sets required, you may also want to include some job-related testing.
I hope this helps.
Great question and having both started 3 recruitment firms as well as been working within those recruitment firms, I know how tricky it is to balance the needs of the start up business together with skills.
However what I've learned and share with my community is 3 core things for start up hiring:
Cultural fit: can you get on with them, day in and day out; after all, there's no place to hide misfits in small teams and start-ups
Vision: do they buy in to what you're doing and also where you're going?
Attitude: they need to 'get' the start-up; big company cultures don't win the day here as you need quick wins and people who will roll up their sleeves, get their job done and be proud of your start-up.
Final point which others have referenced is skills ... attitude, cultural fit and vision buy-in ... none of these can be taught (nurtured, yes but they have to have the combination of all 3 to be a viable component for your business). Skills ... you can teach them. So find someone who works in a specific function i.e. business development and marketing and if you need to teach / train them functional aspects of your product or solution, fantastic as if they already tick all 3 boxes above, it should work well and be a strong partnership for you, your business and your new employee.
Good luck. Start ups are great fun ... hard work but sooooo worth it!
In my years as a small business owner and consultant I've experienced that creativity & critical thinking beat experience 90% of the time.
I'm not knocking research or the experience of other entrepreneurs. But, I've noticed that start ups need the edge offered by those who think outside the box & come up with creative ways of being more efficient.
I'm a big fan of the Wright brothers. They weren't experienced aircraft builders or designers. They were creative thinkers who refused to hold onto the status quo. That's a major hint to the rest of us.
Good luck in your future endeavors! Feel free to contact me any time.
As someone who founded a start up, although I think there are arguments for both sides, if I had to do it over again, I would opt for the key skills and experience first. Get the business off the ground and profitable and then you can bring in creative talent to 'round the edges' and make it even more profitable. You will have to invest in training and motivational workshops to get both creatives and experts to work together. Ultimately the experts will find some of the ideas of the creative thinkers interesting and adopt some of them and the creative thinkers will learn a lot from the experienced professionals. Those in the middle who complain - give them the pink slip. One of biggest mistakes was being too kind. I had 100% employee loyalty and a company team spirit that could not be matched, but lost some business because of it.
Have fun and good luck!
Bryan, you ask a very wise question. Having worked in both large organizations and start-ups i have seen the best and worst of both worlds and what works. Your idea of getting some people with some experience is good. I would not go with very large companies as they generally try to put too much structure into the process and a start-up needs flexibility. I would look for creativity, flexibility, knowledge, and some competent leadership from another successful start-up or a mid-sized company .
This is "the question" for many entrepreneurs, in several fields...
maybe you can find my answer very strange, because is still a set of questions ... but in this way the answers will be yours.
is "prioritizing" the most useful task to do when a lot of things are starting up simultaneously in your company?
are "non-startup experienced" people without creativity or critical thinking?
why we create distance between ideas and things? between old and new?
I could discover cross fertilization between different cultures is really powerful.
the main critical phase I found when I help startups to evolve is to have in the same time needed skills to understand what is the the right things to do AND how to do these things right ...