You have thought of the concept repeatedly. You have written mission statements and defined your product or service. You have built business strategies, financial plans, spent hundreds of hours raising capital, and now it’s time to select your team.
As a startup, your hiring process is going to differ from that of a big business. Established large companies almost always have an organized and clear structure, streamlined hiring process, and regimented training. They have the resources necessary to vet and train new hires and introduce them into the business in good time. Startups don’t have this luxury.
You are the CEO, CFO, HR, janitorial staff, and everything in between. There is no time for a long training process, not to mention you may not have any experience training staff. It’s especially difficult when it’s your company and you’re still not sure about the finer details.
When you hire, you aren’t just bringing on an employee; you’re bringing on a partner, coworker, and a piece of the foundation you are building your dream on.
Your employees will determine the future of your business. When hiring the first support team for your startup, look for these traits.
The ability to persevere
By definition, perseverance is the steady persistence in a course of action in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. It is synonymous with tenacity and determination, and one of the traits of a startup’s employees.
Employees need to have the energy and commitment a startup requires in order for both parties to thrive. They need to be able to handle the workload without wavering, as the startup phase of your business is the most fragile. Employees married to the idea of forty hours of work and that’s it, or “40 and done” people, are not ideal for the startup lifestyle.
Airbnb, a startup unicorn, and website dedicated to renting out domestic lodging, is worth more than a billion dollars. But back in 2008, it was a startup that was having problems generating interest. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, founders of Airbnb, were struggling to generate revenue from their promising online traffic. They were heavily in debt, and skeptics thought their mission was ridiculous.
It was the perfect time to cut their losses, but the persevered and kept working. Due to their commitment, they were introduced to and picked up by startup accelerator Y Combinator, who allowed them to grow exponentially from then on.
Willingness to take initiative
So you have an employee who shows determination and perseverance, someone who will work ceaselessly through obstacles and challenges to succeed. However, they can’t seem to make a decision without asking for your thoughts and ideas first.
Every time you sit down to calculate finances, or meet with a potential customer, or make a critical decision about the direction of your business, they burst in and interrupt with a question.
That’s when it occurs to you that your employee needs another trait: initiative.
Startup employees will have strengths and weaknesses, yet they need to be self-directed and take initiative wherever possible. As the proprietor of the business, you don’t have time to get bogged down in every decision or action made. You want an employee who has confidence and makes good decisions instead of asking for your opinion or advice. Hire someone who can solve problems and work with minimal supervision. An employee who takes initiative will save you time and money.
Daria Shualy, formerly the Head of Content Marketing at successful startup daPulse, paired initiative with startups nicely: “If you’re looking for personal growth, the upside is that startups are a dynamic, fast-evolving environment, which values initiative. It is great for figuring out what you’re best at and excelling in it.”
In short, find someone who isn’t scared to make their own growth instead of climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.
A sense of accountability
Now your employee perseveres and takes initiative. You are finally making progress on your own to-do list, but you notice they are doing something incorrectly or have missed a few deadlines. When you approach them about the challenges, they give excuses and blame other factors instead of accepting responsibility. They aren’t acting accountable.
Dave Nevogt, co-founder of Hubstaff, remarked that “accountability is the desire and willingness to be held to the deadlines, goals, and promises you make.” A startup needs an employee who is open and honest about their duties and responsibilities.
Everyone makes mistakes, but how they are handled demonstrates character. The “blame game” can take up time, effort, and money that cannot be wasted due to the usual tight budget associated with a startup.
Of course, this is a trait every large or small company would want in an employee, but it is crucial for a startup. Larger businesses have human resource divisions and staff that handle situations where a mistake has been made. As a startup, however, you need to be able to quickly resolve issues and treat mistakes as learning opportunities instead of investigating.
An academically-minded disposition
This trait does not necessarily focus on an employee’s academic history, major, grades, scores, or degrees—the focus is on the future and an employee’s passion for learning. Your startup may have employees who persevere, have initiative, and hold themselves accountable, but they need to be willing to learn and remain flexible and adaptable.
The concept of “upskilling” involves companies investing in their employees by helping or offering education opportunities so they may later be more qualified to affect change. Startups may not be able to offer upskilling immediately, but an employee usually won’t be responsible for just one area. They will work on multiple projects and need to keep up with new concepts and ideas.
The only guarantee in a startup is change. An aptitude for learning and versatility will greatly improve your startup’s chances for success. Employees must be able to adapt and learn as quickly as you and your business require, and it benefits them to continually improve their knowledge and skills.
Creative leadership ability
Finally, your employee is ready for the future and any new learning it may require. The last thing you notice is that your employee works hard—and smart. They are consistently creative as well as cultivate new ideas. Startups are likely to be niche and possibly the first of their kind, so there are few to no examples in which to follow. You need your employee to be both creative and a leader.
A leader will embody these traits, but thinking outside of the box is unique in itself. Your startup needs employees that will work in a few fields, but consider all of the fields when making decisions.
It takes creativity to make all factors seamlessly integrate into one another. As a leader, they are not shackled to one method of thinking and are willing to consider any options instead of relying on the “rule book.” Eric Bahn, once an advisor for the company Webflow, explained that employees who consider the end game and create a path to success are indispensable to startups.
Once again, “40 and done” employees are not inherently a hindrance, and they don’t necessarily have a bad work ethic; they simply may not benefit from or help your startup.
Every day will be a new challenge and your team needs to persevere, take initiative, be held accountable, embrace new knowledge and challenges, and embody the spirit of a creative leader.