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Recruitment | 12 Min Read

The Pillars of your Start-Up: How to Hire a Rockstar Founder Team

How to Hire a Rockstar Founder Team

Who Is It?

The one who lives on loaned time and money. The one who is in action of setting something in motion, emerging as the new sapling in the canopy of trees. The off-beaters of dresses, ideas, and processes, are so impoverished on resources that they will fail without the first fabulous founder’s team. Who is it?

Start-ups, the pressure cooker of innovation, the place where do or die comes to life, would be of no use without a team to lead the procession.

This blog will take you through the journey of the fabulous five hiring’s you need to make for your founder’s team. Do not mistake this article for how to hire your first start-up team, but it is about who to hire as your chiefs as and when you do.

But before we dive into who to hire and how, make a note of one very important thing which is a pre-requisite to any hiring, culture & vision.

You might be the sole person, the one man army who has an idea in mind. The one without a formalized vision or mission statement but your objectives, what you want from your organization and what is important to you, are some of the basic things which should be clear. This clarity is mandatory since this is what you will communicate and want to search for in your team of people.

The Kick-Off Phase

“39% of businesses report decreased productivity because of a bad hire.”

Now try to comprehend the percentage increase when the bad hire isn’t the employee but one of the business leaders, who is expected to lead the employees. The number would not just be humongous but daunting. Entrepreneurs want entrepreneurs, highly dependable leaders who share the same passion.

Solopreneurs take 3.6 times longer to grow than start-up teams of two or more, Start-up Genome Report. So come let us build the fabulous five with  

The Sales Simulator

“Salespeople aren’t just the ones who build your top-line; they are your front-line troops; the most important point of contact with your customers. With these caveats in mind, it is crucial to invest in building your winning sales team.”

Every start-up dreams to earn millions, and why shouldn’t it? But before you roll in millions, you need to hire some salespeople, isn’t it?

Before you hire the one man in the fabulous five, you should be clear with three questions- Who to sell? What to sell? How to sell?

Once you are curious to know how everything works, you have climbed the first ladder to demystifying your sales hiring.


Who Is My Salesman?

The world is changing, changing at a pace which sometimes makes us breathless. The competition is fierce; everyone wants to survive and succeed. Following the usual will just make you one among many, be different, challenge the conventionality of processes. Rather than employing the sales head from another company, let’s try it differently.

Before I do that, let me ask a question.

What according to you makes a great salesperson?

A flawless speaker with eloquent English with a dash of confidence and ting of persistence?

That’s what most of us think but now let us see what Mark Roberge, the author of an award-winning book (The Sales Acceleration Formula) has to say.

Traits of a superb salesman - Hire core team in a startup

“Just be curious.” Just question the need, the reason, the idea because that’s how you understand the problem. Sales are about solving the problem, the more inquisitive you are, the more income you get.

“Just have perfect work ethics.” Work hard, harder, and hardest. Do not put a limit on your limitations and that’s when you close the deals successfully.

“Just be intelligent.” Believe you me when I say, you can’t be dumb and sell!! You just have one chance; you have to be spontaneous and sharp with the ability to mold your offerings and crack the deal.

You Have a Choice to Make

  • The SVP– who is at the top position of a renowned MNC, has unmatched experience of 20 years in sales. He has headed a team of players and always delegates work to others. In a nutshell, he depends on executives to get the task done.
  • The sales manager– who is not from the same industry but with considerable experience in the field of selling. He has grown and been promoted from a salesperson to a sale manager but in an entirely different industry and arrangement.
  • The entrepreneur– who with his sales IQ and some experience impresses the customers, he who seems to be dynamic with a go-getter attitude.

Who Would You Choose?

How would you feel if you hire the impressionable, the innovative one? His/her go-getter attitude, the excitement to learn more and agile nature makes him/her the ideal first candidate to be hired. Doesn’t it?

The traditional ways and ideas of 20 years of experience lack the spirit, the luster, and the need to get better; they might not be quite abreast with the upcoming digitalized affair of things. Change might take a long time to adjust to their daily chores.

 The sales manager is an attractive choice too, who has shown improvement over the time but do take into consideration the field he has worked in is nowhere close to the industry for which he is being considered to be hired. He is unaware of the workings, the type of industry.

The street-smart, the young mind who knows what he/she needs and knows to get the way out. I say the entrepreneur suits all the qualities and has the capability to win the bet.

  • The Marketing Monarch

We need a solid management team to implement a solid business idea and marketing no doubt promotes the idea, the plan, the product. It spreads the idea far and wide.

Do not confuse marketing with selling. It is not about flooding the consumers with ads; it is about satisfying the needs of the people to achieve sustainability. Marketing has a new found place in the world of dynamic consumers. It builds the undisputable reputation of the company. Make or mar it with the head to lead it.

Who Is My Marketer?

Before we get down to hiring our best man or woman to lead the marketing team, let’s do some groundwork.

what makes a great marketer? - Hire core team in a startupUnderstand the context of your business- Business can be separated into 2 types- Business to consumer (B2C) and Business to business (B2B). What type of start-up do you wish to set up? If you cater to the consumers directly, you are a B2C setup, and when your target audience is another organization, you are a B2B startup. Once you have a clear picture of whether you are B2B or B2C, it is only then that you can move forward to decide what marketing would suit you. This brings us to the next learning.

Understand what kind of marketing works for you- There are a plethora of marketing mediums available at your disposable. Print media which entails newspapers, magazines, billboards or television or email marketing, the options are plenty, but not everything is expected to work for your business. Know what suits you the best.

For instance, in a trucking company which is B2B, the idea of digital marketing could be a big flop. It could be that your company performs well with ATL (Above the line) advertising, which uses mass media, TV, radio as well as internet to target the audience. Or maybe BTL (Below the line) activities hit the right chord with pamphlets, banners, and stickers all over the place. Just know what hits hard and hit it hard.

 Business tactics vary for different marketing mediums and differ according to the industry; you should be well aware of your needs before you desire to fulfill them.

You Have a Choice to Make

  • The Marketing head of an MNC- who is in a senior position with a renowned brand. He who bathes in luxury, the one who manages a large team and has 2 personal assistants to do the job. Has a budget of 1 billion to carry operations.
  • The marketing manager– who is dynamic in his approach and has been a part of a growing start-up.
  • The member of the marketing head’s team– who have worked under pressure, with deadlines and enjoys the same luxury of a 1 billion budget to achieve targets.

Who Would You Choose?

Start-ups are budgeted; they are like the lady who negotiates till the last penny and gets quality work done with a minimal amount. The people at too high a position in an MNC might not be aware of the groundwork and how to grow business with new ways of marketing such as search engine optimization, mobile, blogs, or e-marketing.

 And to be very honest, When you don’t know have a skill, it is difficult to learn one spontaneously and implement it immediately.

Go for the person who knows how to perform in a start-up, the one with the marketing tactics and the experience. The cherry on top would definitely be an exclusive personality trait of adventure.

Sometimes, many campaigns make no sense when presented at first, people are unsure of the approach, but great CMOs take the risk and launch the bold idea. The dynamic manager, after facing all odds, wins the competency framework required to make the marketing monarch.

  • The Product Perfectionist

The product is the translation of your idea into reality. The product is the life-line of the company. Your product could be anything ranging from an automobile, coffee blender to a software service.

If you are a tech start-up, look for your programmer, if you are planning to open a food joint, then the chef is the innovator. Whatever may be your business idea, your ideal product person should be the one who breathes it.

For instance, you plan on manufacturing chocolates, get the person who dreams of making the finest chocolates in the world. He who passionately imbibes your vision and strives to achieve more and better each day.

Who Is Your Hacker?

Qualities of a hacker - Hire core team in a startup

No product, no business. Your CPO is the owner of the product if they cannot own it, then nobody can. So choose wisely. The hacker is the one who is able to conceptualize what the design of the product is; he is the one who has the ability to bridge the idea of the founder with the expertise of the engineers and make the company grow.

He is the one who communicates the idea, the vision to all the others in the team and hence should have great communication skills. He should be proficient enough to express himself clearly with what the product aims to achieve and how.

You Have a Choice to Make

  • The Vice President of Product-who was a great manager once. He is responsible for the product lifecycle management, the one who oversees the vision and plans for the future.
  • The product manager– who is the one directly connected to the product, the one who makes it, details it and knows it in and out.
  • The graduate– who has just passed out, with an exceptional degree and has all the theoretical learnings on his tips.

Who Would You Choose?

When we are just setting up a business, we do not require product lifecycle management as much as we require a product. We need the one who understands the idea of the product, imbibes it, gets obsessed with it.

The one who focuses on understanding and achieving the needs of the customers is the one that should be hired now. The VP wouldn’t be a lost bet; he is the one who will design the roadmap for the future, the manager of managers, who was once a great manager himself.

So the question is, what do you need now? Having a business plan is required but failing to understand current needs for future skills, is it a wise choice?

The graduate is yet to get hands-on experience with the work culture and tactics. He is fresh blood and spirit who will enthuse the start-up with excitement but little does he know how things work. Hire the one who has the skills we need now.

  • The Outstanding Operationist

Start-ups don’t just succeed by-product arbitrage but succeed largely because of execution arbitrage.

When you need a solid, strong right hand who would implement the structures and processes in your start-up, that is when you hire a COO. He is the one you can rely on with leadership responsibilities while you exercise the control on the strategic side of the business.

The job and responsibilities of a COO vary widely ranging from administrative to strategic. The typical responsibilities of a COO entail quality control, order fulfillment, and managing the internal system and business processes. But the key responsibility of a COO is perfect execution.

Your start-up has many benefits, but these hidden diamonds show their true colour once your business plans are executed well. Not to forget that the only strategy your target audience sees is what you enforce well.

The problem is that frequently we spend most of our energy overthinking our plans rather than concentrating on executing them. Sometimes we may find ourselves design a minimum viable product and put enough money in marketing but still, it doesn’t work as expected, what’s the catch here? There is a high possibility of a lack of proper implementation of the strategy a success.

Every business has plans, but without execution, they are useless, boneless, and spiritless. This is what your COO does; he puts into effect the plans and gets it into practice.

It is he who owns and enacts the strategies of the business. Strategies without an executioner are hallucinations. And we are talking business here and dealing with one desperately requires the operator of everything, the COO.

Who Is Your Hustler?

“75% of new start-ups fail, which might relate to the fact that 46% of small business new hires fail in the first 18 months.”

Hire right, because if you don’t, then who knows you might be the next one to shut down. Before deciding on who to hire as your COO, keep one thing clear in your mind, that the COO is not your manager of resources but a partner in your decision making.

Once you are sure on hiring your outstanding executioner, the chameleon should be adaptive and as agile to the environment as possible.  

This might make you wonder, what should make my executioner world class?

What makes the COO special? - Hire core team in a startup

He is the one who sticks around. Imagine the one soul, who is the connecting dot of all departments from the idea then the product, the codes, to marketing and finally sales, it seems a lot, and it is too. The responsibilities of carrying out all operations smoothly can sometimes be vexatious and burn out the person. But the one who goes beyond his limit and testifies against all the odds wins.

They are data-driven. When they hear the board say, “I have a strong feeling that we shall go ahead with this plan,” the COO will stop and think for a while. Thinking patiently, they are the ones who ask for data; they question the guts and believe in statistics. Guided by data, not politics or thoughts or hunches, they make the execution valid.

Managing complexity is another crucial trait. The one who, from a multitude of things can figure out the top priority list that needs to be catered to urgently is the one. A capability of breaking down complex problems into simpler ones for the team to understand makes him the winner.

The Teambuilder who can understand the pulse of the team. The COO, who is the thread connecting each department, needs to be a quality leader who can motivate each one to deliver efficiently. He is the one who should understand the pulse of the team, understand them, and solve the issues.

That’s how your excellent executioner should look like.

You Have a Choice to Make

  • The first hire in your operations as your long-term COO- the person has been with you all through the ups and downs of the company, he has grown with the company. He has known you and the team since its inception. The one who can be groomed and made the COO of your company.
  • A mid to senior level executive in the operations team of an MNC- He is the person who has contributed to the tremendous growth in his department in the last 5 years, he is well equipped with a large organization’s working as well as managing complexity.
  • A person with diverse experience – The one man, who has been managing operations in different start-ups. He who has gathered some idea of the working environment in the start-up and has a taste of various start-ups and their culture.

Who Would You Choose?

Before deciding the ideal one for your start-up, keep in mind the above-mentioned traits of the excellent executioner. Let us try to categorize each of the 3 people according to the traits mentioned so that it becomes easier to choose.

The first hire in your operations team as the ideal candidate could be a fair choice taking into consideration the strong relationship he has with the team since the very beginning. He has worked with them day in & day out and knows the people, their requirements better than anyone else around.

But not to forget his managing complexity, that can raise doubts. He has solved issues and problems but were they the most feasible ways to approach the issue. He who lacks the idea of a big picture looks at situations with a narrow perspective. Start-ups are growing fast, faster than its employees could imagine, sometimes coping up takes time, and so do results.

The mid to senior level manager has the ability to manage complexities. He is the one with the experience of working in a large organization. With an achievement of growth in his name, he justifies the quality of team building, which in the first place has a contribution to success. Not very sure about whether he has an eye on data and statistics or just follows his heart, he could be one option to consider.

The last one appears to be the jumping jack, he has worked at various places and would definitely have a plethora of experiences to learn from, He has a good idea of the start-up environment since he has been born and brought up in so many.

But one aspect which cannot be ignored is his inability to stick around, which is one of the major requirement for a COO. The job is very demanding and burns you out, and there are times you feel burdened and incapable of performing, and that is when you need to get up and fight the odds.

Each one has his own list of pros and cons weigh each and choose the one that suits you the best.

  • The Terrific Techie

The emergence of the digital revolution has welcomed a brand new era of modern technology. Technology has now seeped into every business opportunity.

Earlier technology concerns used to be popular among large organizations. Monstrous infrastructure and a committed IT department was crucial in developing business markets. At this time, small businesses were small enough that it did not require such consideration.

But now nothing like technology for start-ups. It is a buyers world; you need to shower them with all the services to grab their attention( user experience). They are picky; they will check your website, they would want to order online; they want a digital mode of payment and marketing has gone digital too, and so does your product.

Beginning with a medium of communication, technology has contributed to easier accounting, and it is the mode of innovation and change for all. The power of technology has been amplified when it came in the hands of business leaders.

The modern world is hungry for ideas and new technology; ideas alone cannot carve the path to success. Business is not only about sellers and buyers, but how technology is used to expand the market. Make platforms which don’t crash, hire people who don’t crash.

Who Is Your Techie?

The techie who goes beyond coding. Hire core team in a startup

Whatever your start-up is about- tech or non-tech, your main techie should not only be about coding. He is expected to think about the product before he thinks of coding for it. He is the one who goes beyond coding. He is the one who thinks of the value the product is creating. If not, then you end up with a product, unfulfilled promises, and a broken budget.

Your CTO is an amalgamation of technical and managerial skills. A strong engineering discipline which makes him apply his knowledge to build better. We shall not compromise with these technical skills as they form the credibility of the team. He should be able to assess the various technologies and find the ones which suit the business. Technology selection comes with in-depth knowledge, a long-term vision, and focusing on the strengths.

He is the one who can manage development resources and chooses the most cost-effective method. They cannot be coders locked in the basement but the ones who play an active role in strategic planning and growth of the organization.

Strategic thinking desired from him. He is expected to look at the big picture, not just individual lines of code; he has a huge role to play in the overall direction of the product and the technology coming out. He has to know the art of leveraging technology to enhance the product.

Adaptable to different roles. The CTO is expected to work as an executive and as a technical brain. He is the leader who builds the team, inspires them to achieve different milestones by guiding them through various challenges. He is also partnering with all the spheres of business, working to apply technology, which has a positive impact on the company.

You Have a Choice to Make

  • A brilliant college coder– he has just completed his degree, and with that, he has patented a product in his name. He has coded brilliantly for the college website and has many such achievements in his name.
  • Senior coding manager from a blue chip tech company– He has been consistency in his performance, he has proved himself in various endeavors and has grown from being a coder to a manager.
  • CTO from an MNCHe is the seasoned soul with 20 years of managerial experience. He has the technical expertise and the managerial skills of guiding the team of coders.

Who Would You Choose?

All throughout you might have noticed that we have argued against bringing seasoned hands in the industry but now having an expert with years of experience is what we desire.

A person who has worked with clients knows how to get the work delivered within the mentioned timelines is an added value.

The brilliant coder is someone who believes only in coding; he may not be the one who looks beyond his work, and his managing skills are questionable since he has no experience in the same. The senior coding manager has definitely seen growth from one position to another, but he is still being delegated with work that needs to be done. No doubt in the fact that the person is handling a team of coders, but the level that he is expected to achieve as a CTO is yet to come.

In tech, processes and coding discipline have a very special place; someone needs to lead the entire bunch of coders ranging from members of the team to managers to follow suit. That’s what the experienced person from the big MNC have learned to do over the past so many years, have that experience in your terrific techie.


Assessments To Hire

The hallmark of a great selection process is the value it lays on assessments while hiring for the ideal candidate.

We now have a clear understanding of what traits to look for and make our best choices. We have successfully shortlisted the category of people, but how shall we choose the right one?

Wouldn’t it be a relief if I tell you that there are standards set and evaluating them on these traits and measuring the personality of each candidate is possible?  If yes, then take that sigh of relief.

We have 3 broadly defined categories-

Behavioral skills – Measure the personality of the person(soft skills), the various competencies aligned with business objectives such as communication skills, leadership qualities, empathy, etc.

Cognitive skills– Measure the ability to think logically, reason, and pay attention, basically test your aptitude.

Domain skills– Measures the specialized knowledge in a specific field

These can be used as a standard for appraising all the competencies and finding the best fit.

Let me make it easy for you-let us take the case of hiring our superb salesman. We highlighted 3 traits that are mandatory for our CRO, i.e., curiosity, intelligence, and perfect work ethics. Now let us assess these traits by segregating them according to the categories mentioned above. Intelligence can be measured via aptitude assessments, similar work ethics, and curiosity can be evaluated through various behavioral tests.

Assessments save the time and money and lets’ you filter the candidates who meet the benchmark and deserve your undivided attention. Properly pre-designed pre-employment assessments play a crucial role in making the right hire.

Companies like Mettl provide you with a plethora of pre-built assessments and help you make the right hiring choice.

For hiring your Chief-Faux-Executives, do not hesitate to explore the tests to assess the leadership skills.

Sometimes we do not feel satisfied unless we evaluate the technical skills of the candidates. We would want to test the people in a simulative environment, and that’s when Mettl’s coding simulators come to rescue.

The pool of tests is your one and all time solution. Explore and exploit the assessments available and choose the perfect hire.

The Champions Championing

Whoever you choose keep a close eye on how well they align with your ideas, your vision, and the level of maturity of your business.

It is not a 9-5 job, it is a passion, and the people living it need people who breathe it. Your fabulous five should be a collection of abilities and skills which complement each other.

Look for the fire in their belly and ignite it as it is with them you can look forward and attain the unattainable.

Solutions to Challenges faced by startups and large companies

Originally published May 1 2018, Updated December 17 2020

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About This Topic

Startup hiring is a specialized talent acquisition process of hiring employees for startups in their early stages. For startup hiring, HRs need to maintain a healthy balance between different personality types - drivers, dreamers, doers, etc. A strategic startup hiring plan places each employee in a favorable environment where they can work towards a common goal.

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