Hiring your First Startup Employee
By: Catherine Conlan
Hiring your first employee is a big moment for any entrepreneur, whether it’s your first startup or your 10th. These insights will help things go smoothly.
1. Start With the Numbers
Check your books to ensure that hiring your first startup employee won’t crash your fledgling company. You’ll need to consider how much you can reasonably afford in salary and whether you’ll provide benefits, says Brandi Koskie, who has been involved in several tech and creative startups and is co-founder of Clover Partners, based in Denver and Oklahoma City. You may also consider offering startup equity for first employees.
There will be other costs associated with hiring your first employee — recruiting, payroll taxes, equipment and training — all of which get your first startup employee up and running.
2. Find Someone Who Shares Your Vision
Look for an employee who wants to be a part of your business and who buys into your idea and dream, Koskie says. You want to find someone who’s prepared to give a lot of themselves and their time for the job, knowing that the biggest tangible rewards may not come for years.
Traits to look for include being a team player with strong collaboration skills and a sense of “urgent curiosity,” says Jessica Salans, co-founder of a startup publishing imprint, Coralstone Press, in Los Angeles. You’ll need a savvy and alert team that can look for opportunities as the business forges its own path.
3. Assess Candidates Carefully
Hiring your first employee involves spending time with candidates, Koskie says, and it’s a good idea to take more time than an interview with your finalists.
“You may have time constraints for how soon you need to make a hire, but consider bringing potential new hires on in a contract capacity before you make the job offer,” Koskie says. Consider giving them a paid one-off project.
“That way you can see how they work,” Koskie says. “Are they disruptive or are they contributing in a meaningful way? If you have concerns about their skills, you can put them to the test. You can start to see how they respond to pressure, or how above and beyond they're willing to go. This is mutually beneficial, as they get to test the waters of their new employer, too.”
4. Look for a Partner
When hiring for first startup employee, look for someone whose strengths can complement their weaknesses, such as someone who can oversee operations while you sell.
“I always have a very clear idea of what that first employee will do, whether it's development, marketing or just plain customer support,” says Dean Levitt, founder of Teacup Analytics in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Hiring them to fulfill tasks or a role that the founder currently does successfully but doesn't have enough time for is perfect. That means the founder can train, manage and judge the work accurately.”
5. Make Sure You Like Them
Your first startup employee will likely be someone you’ll work with all the time — and it can be a big change. Look for someone who’s easy to spend time with and who doesn’t get on our nerves.
“I consider personality to be more important than expertise,” Levitt says. “You’ll need to work closely together, so getting along is vital to keeping yourself motivated during the rough times.”