The most important resource that startups have is the entrepreneurial team, because it determines the capabilities of the venture. Recruiting the right people doesn't add 10% or 20% but rather 10x or 20x to the startup's output and chances of success. In addition, since talent attracts talent, having the right people creates a powerful virtuous cycle and helps recruit even more great team members.
That's why it is vital that you spend a lot of time looking for and recruiting the right people. Below I have listed the characteristics that I find most valuable, although you might want to add and subtract based on your leadership style. I look for people that:
- Have integrity.
- Can get stuff done - startups change continuously and/or grow exponentially and so there is simply no time or opportunity to create an easy manual for employees to follow. That's why team members need to be able to accomplish challenging tasks without much guidance.
- Can and want to teach and learn - self-improvement and willingness to help others get better are the hallmarks of great leaders and successful organizations.
- Are excited about the startup's vision for changing the world, while thinking critically about how to get there together faster and better.
If you are lucky enough to find such people, do your best to recruit and empower them. This process can take a lot of time, but finding the right teammates is definitely worth it. As you embark on this challenging task, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Recruit, don't hire. Hiring "employees" to do a "job" is disastrous for startups, which depend on the resourcefulness and dedication of their small team. Instead, try to recruit teammates, who are problem solvers that will join you on your quest to making the startup a success.
- Don't recruit the best people, recruit the right people. Many people fall into the trap of looking for "rock stars." While it certainly helps to have highly skilled - perhaps even "famous" - team members, their value-add will be miniscule unless they are a good fit with the rest of the team and the startup vision and culture.
- Great people are hard to find and recruit. They are usually already working on something and have their own ideas they are excited about. That is why finding and recruiting great people takes a lot of time and effort and shouldn't be underestimated. Having a great pipeline of excellent candidates can be a major competitive advantage in the early stages of a new venture.
- Assessing candidates is difficult. Even though most people believe they are great at recruiting, both research and practice demonstrate that this is not the case. As a matter of fact, deciding who will be a good fit for the team and will be able to deliver disproportionately high value is incredibly difficult. For example, many recruiters become overly impressed with resumes - even though they are designed to impress and therefore don't offer much beyond a good conversation starter. To prevent rushing to biased conclusions, try to observe people working (e.g. give them a mini project or recruit them on a trial basis), check references thoroughly, or at least attempt to infer their work style and values (e.g. by asking non-standard questions about things they have done before and paying attention to how they answer).
Next, I discuss fundraising, which is another key priority for entrepreneurs.