How to Hire Your Early-Stage Startup Superstars


How to Hire Your Early-Stage Startup Superstars

Six years ago I took a big risk professionally. After working a corporate PR job in California, I left for an opportunity to join an early-stage startup and help build an app for whiskey drinkers (it was kind of like Untappd for beer or Vivino for wine, but for scotch, bourbon, and so on.).

I was one of the first four employees and was brought on to lead our marketing and PR efforts.

Even though we had a wild and successful year, we all went on to pursue other opportunities. That experience led me down a path of working with many other ambitious startups. In each role, I learned a great deal about what it takes to grow a business and the type of people needed in the early phases (more lessons than I can actually share in this one post).

At a startup—particularly those in the early-stages—priorities change on the turn of a dime.

In the whiskey business, we moved from concept to a working beta in a blink of an eye.

One moment it felt like I was sharing feedback on sketches for our mobile app, and not long after, switching gears to create a PR plan for the upcoming soft launch. Oh, and pull together event logistics and plans for an industry event we were suddenly sponsoring the next month.

Here at Hunt Club, it's the same. One minute it feels like I’m researching media contacts in the morning and five minutes later digging into website analytics to understand how our email campaigns are impacting website traffic. Before lunch, I'm writing up a content marketing plan for a podcast we're launching.

Nothing surprises me anymore. It's just a way of life.

Duct Tape and Speed Are Keys to Startup Success

The goal for early-stage startups is to develop a product-market fit. To do this, a startup needs people (to build the product) and people (to get the product in front of potential customers).

The founders do this at first. At some point they decide they need to hire a team to help. Since the needs of the business can dramatically shift in minutes, early employees should be more like a Swiss Army knife v. a shingle froe (which is a highly-specialized tool specifically for making shingles, I've learned.)

It is incredibly important that startups find traction early on. People with a broader array of skill sets are the right people who can help in this phase. These are agile people who can help with everything from operations to product development—developing product and a business in parallel.

The more I talk with coworkers, friends and people I meet in the industry, I find most early-stage startup employees have great stories about their earliest roles:

  • Someone assembling IKEA furniture is the same person closing deals with investors
  • The person at an event taking photos for social media is later writing code
  • A person mopping floors and changing toilet paper is also managing Quickbooks

In the way duct tape can be used for a fast fix on most anything, employees in this phase are people who can do it all.

Identifying Startup DNA

Think of someone you know who’s a natural-born athlete. You know people like them. These are people who’ve never played a single game of golf in their life, but they pick up a club and strip it down the fairway (i.e., hit an ideal tee shot).

In a business setting, these people are not limited to what they’ve seen or done before. They wear multiple hats. They hustle. They come up with strategy and execute.

These people have the skills and mental game to carry out all kinds of day-to-day activities to help grow a startup. I’ve seen it in just about every startup coworker—across all levels from founder to intern.

What to Look for in Early-Stage Hires

At Hunt Club, we have a clear and targeted process to find the right people who can deal with the ambiguity and the messiness of the start-up lifestyle. From what I've observed and learned over the past few months, there are some key things we look for when we help our early-stage startup clients build their teams or hire internally.

Here are three key things:

  1. Ability to Learn—Before I was hired, I knew deep down I wanted to be more creative in my work so I took initiative with something totally different for me: a daily haiku writing challenge (the last time I wrote one of those was probably the third grade). I wrote a poem every day for 45-days straight as a way to stretch my creative thinking. When it comes to your business, find people who are curious, who have the drive, and the confidence and a willingness to tackle new and unfamiliar challenges. Your early hires need to be people who can grow with you, step into uncharted territory and encounter things outside their current capacities.
  2. Willingness to Try New Things—Given the nature of the environment, startup employees so often do things “outside of the job description” day in and out. There isn’t a playbook when it comes to working in these settings. You have to figure it out on your own most times. Sometimes that means grabbing a Monster energy drink, flipping through YouTube and searching Google for some answers to solve problems unconventionally. There are few things more valuable to founders than someone who can take the initiative to try new things, learn a new skill or do what it takes to fill a business need.
  3. Succeeds at New Things—These are environments where you don’t play by the rules to win. You make the rules. Your early employees have to be fabulously resourceful. This means they ask "why?" about current processes and look for ways to do things better—all while generating greater results. Early startup hires have to have the mentality that no one is going to solve the problem for them.

In the End

It’s no surprise: Startup hiring requires careful consideration. When choosing early hires, if you can find people who understand and embrace the chaos in life, you'll have the right people by your side with the innate passion, grit, excitement, and desire needed to take your business to greater heights.

If you’re looking for the right people with the right early hire startup potential, come check out what we're doing at Hunt Club. Or, drop me a comment below and I'd be happy to help.

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Veronica Feldmeier

Veronica Feldmeier

Runs content at Hunt Club. Motivated by ticking things off checklists. When not writing, probably on a yoga mat.