The first group of people you bring on board to your startup are critical. They will help define the culture, and if you get it right, will be the fuel that drives the company forward. But picking the right people is far from scientific, and most entrepreneurs feel very lucky if their initial team turns out to be a slam dunk.
For those that aren't as fortunate to hire the A team right off the bat, here are a few tips and suggestions to consider when looking for employees to join your startup:
1. Look for workhorses, not unicorns.
Startups are hard work. You absolutely need people with ideas, but not at the expense of ivory towers and endless blue sky thinking. Figuring out how to get a product to market may take some flare, but it also takes a lot of effort and persistence. While an element of the chaos is inevitable, you're more likely to be successful if you have structure and process in place. So, look for people willing to put in the extra hours, are diligent about processes and can back up their strategies.
2. Hire people you know or have worked with before.
It might not be possible (or advisable) to pull all your buddies into your startup, but having some experience of working with your team in a previous life and understanding each other's idiosyncrasies will provide you with a baseline level of insight to the risks and rewards that each individual can bring.
Hiring someone who is a completely unknown quantity (to you or your network) adds a substantial level of risk to your venture at such a delicate stage. But if you must go down the route, make sure you vet candidates by looking at references, checking work history and listening to your gut (do the same for people you know, too).
3. Seek out those comfortable with change.
If your prospective employee is the kind of person who needs definitive assurances, guarantees and detailed visibility into her future career track, she's probably in the wrong place. The only guarantee with a startup is that everything is going to change -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Great entrepreneurs are excited about facing new challenges every day and your early team needs to share that enthusiasm to a similar degree.
4. Go after people who are risk tolerant.
Almost by definition, if you're talking to someone who is serious about joining your startup, it means they have a tolerance for risk. But how much tolerance? And what are the consequences for them if the risk doesn't pay off?
By spending time with potential hires and understanding their personality and personal situation, you should be able to get a feel for whether you're going to put them in an untenable situation should your startup fail gain traction. Quite often this will be exposed early -- in their salary expectations, requirements for benefits and other lines of inquiry.
5. Look for folks you can take to the pub.
Is this a person you're OK spending time with socially? Do you like them and get along with them?
Startups can be a very intense experience, and you'll likely be jammed in a small office, living room or garage for a period of time. You are also likely to spend more time with them than you do with your family -- and if you're on front lines of selling a product, you may travel with colleagues extensively. You're going to need to get along at some level, and it helps if you share a similar interests.
Not every one of these traits are essential as teams need balance, but these qualities can be useful benchmarks for flagging a great fit.