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 ...
Bryan, If I were you I would have look at the critical success factors of each position and I would ensure to include attitude, credibility, patience, honesty and trustworthiness. I would also look at their learning curve and that culture fit. You see in a start up, it is what they are bringing to the table, how would this align with your company's vision to achieve the results that are needed in the shortest time.
Hi Bryan, You ask an interesting question.
I would be asking myself a few questions first. (in no order)
I am only including a few so that you can see the process.
The tasks required.
1) Do I need to hire someone full time / part time or contract ?
2) Do I need to hire someone to do what I can't do ?
3) Do I need to hire someone who can do what I am doing so that I can be freed up to do other things.
4) What are the key tasks I am looking to be covered by this person.
5) What type of personality strengths are required for this task.
Responsibility and Ownership.
6) How much responsibility will the person be expected to have.
7) How much ownership will they be expected to have in regard to their tasks and outcomes.
8) How well are they expected to adapt to the roll (time frame)
9) How well do they work with others / on their own (if required)
10 How well do they cope with pressures.
11) How well do the cope with changes in direction.
12) Do they think outside the box .
I think you can see that what I am doing is setting up a profile and a check list.
I would suggest that you evaluate what knowledge, skills and abilities you need now and into the future. You should have a strategic plan on where you are and where you think you are going. Within that plan you need to assess what you need now and in the future. The answers to these questions, your intended corporate culture, and your personal goals all enter into the decision making process. For all age groups make sure you address their interests. Consider a diverse workforce to add strength to decision making. There are a host of tips in "The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America".
Hi Bryan, so many views that you have no answers at all - the decision will always be yours.
You do not mention important information that is crucial to your decision and therefore you have a wide range of possible solutions, most of which have potential value.(all of these comments are good)
You must know where you (your business) is now and where it must be by when.
You will also be aware of the type of world you are selling into and any limitations this alone may place on your people.
You need to find the critical path to get you from A to B
This will show you opportunities and potential threats - from there you can begin to narrow your choices.
When looking at people and job fit matches - I must agree that DISC is the simplest form of identifier - but it is not a decisions maker - it allows you to communicate better.
Find someone (a close friend or colleague) who has experienced a new business venture and ask them if they would be prepared to go through this with you so that you can talk through the options whilst taking on board an outsiders view of your world.
The end result will be you will be sure of what you "must have" and not waste time with "nice to haves" that might not work.
Even then you will make mistakes with people - get over it quickly and take the necessary actions to rectify them straight away.
Good luck in your new venture - never give up.
Hi Bryan, since it is a start up it is good to have the right mix of employees. this is mainly because each group has its own advantages and disadvantages.for example, those with industrial experience can help provide insight on ways to efficiently and effectively provide products and services while the new ones in the industry can help in solving problems and chart way forward with their creativity since they hardly have a working culture that may hinder progress or innovation.
There are two methodologies; one is that self work with self study,...,search article on google read and apply,...,second method is hire the consultant according to your requirements, now depends on you,...!
I would say that you go with a combination of both so that as you grow the group grows together. You need both fresh ideas and people with experience so don't sell yourself short by looking more for one over the other. Feel them out face to face because your heart will guide you and advise as to whom to go with.
It sounds like you are in the early stages, I would look for "athletes". You'll probably pivot and you need people who can do multiple jobs, get up to speed fast and have the ability to adapt. If you can get an athlete in your field all the better, that depends on your budget.
Also, make sure they fit your culture because at the end of the day you'll be spending a lot of time together and the last thing you need is the stress of people not understanding one another on top of the pressure of building a product and selling it.
This is a very complex question and I would state that even professional recruiters generally have no clue what the answer is, as most do not know anything about start-ups. A successful serial entrepreneur is your best resource on this. I ran The CEO Boot Camp for entrepreneurs for many years and now sell it in video form at my web sites and Amazon.com.
The answer has many dimensions that are not clear here and offering an answer without these is prescription without diagnosis = malpractice.
What is your personal experience and value? What is your industry? What is your proposed USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that thing you will be the best in the world at? What does the org chart look like today and what do you expect it to look like in a year? What are your margins, growth rate and 20 other things that will matter. Where is the main risk? Sales? Marketing? Technical development?
My DVD here: http://startupplanet.com/dvd_hiring.htm has a tool to figure all this stuff out which addresses 20 categories of jobs and levels. It is called The Skill Set Matrix(TM). I do agree personality profiles can be very helpful - but not without knowing your own first in a start-up.
I recommend DISC for managers but with a start-up with only a few people the division of labor and critical skills (personality, domain and risk issues) are the key.
Google the simple model called HOTS popularized in The One Minute Milionaire.
In short it is these four personality types and the need for the first 4 people to fit in this if possible to avoid hiring people like you (our reflex) and hire complementary people (a decision and discipline).
Hares are considered conceptual thinkers or creators. Their specialty is creating new ideas and solving problems.
Owls are planners and advancers. Their specialty is organizational planning and direction, particularly as project managers.
Turtles are considered methodical pragmatists. Their specialty is to identify obstacles and to find creative details within larger systems.
Squirrels are practical operators and producers. Their specialty is to implement and produce products and services accurately and efficiently.
The domain/industry expertise must be in the mix where you are pushing the envelope (USP) for sure (i.e. technology, sales) - that goes without saying but has been shown the success rate of start-ups goes up dramatically when the two founders are opposite and divide the duties according to their skills AND personalities. i.e. Jobs and Wozniak, Hewlett and Packard, etc.
This is a make or break decision for most start-ups and if it is your first it could be your last without getting this right. Seek a mentor and have them participate in the hiring process. You can't hire a top pilot without having pilot skills. Don't pretend to know what you don't know or everyone looks good. Lots of start-ups you never heard of made this mistake. Bill Gates did not.
You need to assembly a team of "Experts with Industry Knowledge & Contacts" and "Creative Types" for product/service evolution. Besides cash and contacts, Industry Experts give you credibility - what most startups need. Tap your network to identify both candidates.