How to Select the Right People for Your Start-Up Team

With a good idea and the right financial backing, you can start a business and put yourself on the path to becoming an entrepreneurial success story. However, for your start-up to succeed, you will need to assemble a team of competent individuals to work with you to grow the business by handling the aspects of the business that are outside your area of competence. To a very large extent, the fate of your start-up business rests squarely on the shoulders of your team.

While selecting the right people is a crucial process, it is also tricky one. Get it right and your company’s chances of success literally sky rocket. Get it wrong and your start-up business is doomed.

However, knowing how crucial your start-up team is to the success of your business does not automatically mean that you will be able to hire the right people when the time comes for you to do so. To be able to hire the right people for your start-up team, there are some basic steps you must take. These steps include the following:

Identify Your Company Culture

Culture is a set of shared beliefs, values, philosophy and practices. It is an intangible element that connotes a ‘particular way’ about an organization.

As the owner of your business, it is your responsibility to determine the culture of the company. You can do this by listing your core values – including what you believe to be right and what you believe to be wrong, how your business will behave towards your customers – with regards to the quality of products or service you will deliver to them; and how you want the people that work in your business to behave toward each other and to your customers.

By creating such a list, you will give your people a point of reference with which to work. Even if it is not perfect, it will at the very least, give you and your people something you can point to as you work together.

If you succeed in creating a great company culture, you will greatly enhance the output of your team as a great culture usually engender an environment of fun, interactive collaboration, passion, commitment, open communication and authenticity.

Be Very Clear About the Roles (Positions) for Which You Need to Hire People

It is a fact that you need people to help you build your start-up into a successful business. However, you can achieve this objective only if you clearly identify the roles or positions where you need help and bring on board individuals who are experts in those areas.

As the founder, you most likely possess skills in one area or the other. And if you have a co-founder, he or she also possesses a specific skill set of their own. Between the two of you, you can decide on which position each of you should occupy based on your individual skill sets and then move on to hire people for the rest of the positions which must be filled for your start-up team to be complete.

Unless you define the right positions, you will most likely end up hiring people who may not be able to add much value to the organization because their specific competence falls outside responsibility assigned to them.

The key to figuring out what positions you need to hire people for is to first come up with a list of the tasks you or your co-founder cannot handle or will not be able to tackle because your time is taken up by other tasks. Then run through the list to determine if any of them can be merged. If there are any that could be merged, bring them together into one position. Those that cannot be merged can stand independently. These distinct groups of tasks will then form the positions for which you will hire people to form your team.

Interview Thoroughly

The interview process is very crucial when you are looking to select the right people for your start-up team. It affords you the opportunity to have personal contact with the people from among whom you will select your team.

But having personal contact with people during the interview process is not enough; you have to interview thoroughly.

This means that you must ask the interviewees questions and give them tasks that will help you clearly determine if they actually possess the competences required in the position for which you are looking to bring them in. You must be thorough enough to figure out if they possess the right skill set to function in the respective roles and if the skills they lack can be easily learnt on the job.

By all means, don’t make any assumptions based on someone’s resume. If their resume says that they achieved a particular feat, say ‘‘under my leadership as the Product Development Manager of the insurance company, we came up with 6 different products’’, probe to know exactly how this happened. You should ask what the products were and how the ideas for the products were generated. Who and who comprised the team? Who and who came up with the ideas? What was the specific contribution of the interviewee in the entire process? Ask them open ended behavioral questions based on what they have done in the past so that you can predict how they will likely behave in the future.

And where you can, test their skills. Choose something that falls within the purview of what they will be doing in the role you are looking to bring them into and test them on it. If they handle it pretty good and tick all the boxes, you then know that you have got your guy. If they fail at it, then you know that they are obviously not a good fit for your team.

Look for Cultural Fit

While competence and expertise are crucial in determining who to select for your start-up team, they are not the only factors that count. Cultural fit is also a crucial factor.

It is important to ensure that each person you choose to join your team fits the company culture you identified earlier. If a person does not fit into the culture of the organization, they will ultimately become an anchor, dragging down the rest of the team instead of adding value.

As you interview each individual, observe how they communicate; how they respond to question; what type of personality they are; how they react when their achievements are downplayed or out rightly dismissed and how they respond when they are back into a corner and put under pressure.

Probe their past to find out if they love working in a team and if they can get along with others. Check to see if their values dovetail with those of the company. Find out if their personal goals align with what the company’s goals are.

Paint pictures of scenarios that represent how you relate with and handle your customers and ask them how they will respond in such situations. You don’t want to bring into the team someone who will struggle with interacting with your customers the way you want your people to. Remember, you are building a brand and your staff are the best representation of your company. So how they relate with and treat your customers is important as this will determine the image that will be engraved on people’s mind about your business.

Look Out for Those Who Are Eager to Learn and Grow

No matter how good an applicant look on their resume or CV, you should probe to know what they have learnt from the respective positions they have held. This matters because a very important quality of a person who will be a great addition to a start-up team is an eagerness to learn and grow.

As a start-up, you need to assemble a team of people who will learn and grow together so hire those who are eager to continually improve themselves. People like this, want to feel like they are part of something big; something that will get bigger and bigger. They want to feel like their work count and that what they do makes a difference in the world. As a result, they are willing to stretch themselves and go the extra mile every time.

So whatever you do, ensure that you don’t hire people who do not have a strong craving to stretch themselves in order to grow.

If You Have Opportunity to Hire Someone With Experience, Do It!

It is a well-documented fact that many – if not most – start-up founders started their companies with limited experience and learnt the skills they needed as they went along. It worked for some but for others, their inexperience cost them their dream.

While I have never advocated that a person should wait until they have got ‘enough’ experience before they launch their start-up, I believe that it pays to have people on your start-up team who are industry veterans with significant experience under their belt.

These people have been there and done that so they are able to notice subtle issues that the inexperience eye wouldn’t see or dismiss quickly but which could turn out to be a major drag to the business down the road. These veterans, because of their experience, can spot a potential problem ten miles out and take the appropriate steps to avert it so that it does not explode into a full-blown disaster.  They just have a knack for knowing when ‘something’s not right’. This can only come from several years of experience, not just from being smart.

So if you have opportunity to recruit someone with years of experience in your particular niche; if you can afford to put together a compensation package that will attract them, go ahead and do it. Your group of smart, savvy and driven young professionals working with an experienced head will constitute an unbeatable team. The younger guys will benefit from the experience and insight of the experience head while the experience individual will in turn get their juiced pumped by the energy, eagerness and drive of the younger guys.

Don’t Hesitate to Let a Person Go If it Turn Out That You Made a Wrong Decision Hiring Them

One other factors that is important in selecting the right people for your start-up is your ability to let go of a person who turns out to be a wrong fit for your company. If you determine, after a person has worked in your company for a while, that they are not adding value to the business or are not fulfilling the core duties of their position, you should act decisively and let them go. Do not kid yourself into thinking that they will get better with time. In most instances, such people don’t. If they were fulfilling their core tasks and having a challenge with some minor tasks, then it would be okay for you to bear with them in the hope that they will improve down the road. As a start-up, you need every team member to pull their weight fully in their role. Any team member who fails to do so will drag the rest of the team down. Don’t let this happen.


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