5 Things to Look for When Hiring Your Startup’s First Employee

by Sreeram Sreenivasan
Candidates, Hiring Talent, Leading People, Startups - 3 years ago

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sreeram Sreenivasan – Founder and CEO of Ubiq BI. His opinions are his own.

For months, you’ve grown your startup on your own, doing everything required to make it succeed, and finally you’ve reached a point where you can afford to hire your first employee, a helping hand who can take your startup to greater heights.

However, hiring your first employee can be a double edged sword. If done the right way, he/she can help you get more things done and give you immense relief and satisfaction. Otherwise, it can be a serious drain on your time and resources, and in some cases, even injurious to your company.

Here are 5 things to look for while hiring your startup’s first employee.

1. Why do you actually want to hire your first employee?

Typically, there are two reasons why founders begin hiring. First, they’ve mastered a skill and want to hire someone they can train to execute on their behalf, so they can move on to learning the next skill to grow their business. For example, you’ve learnt how to pitch your startup, generate leads and turn a few of them into paying customers. Now you want to hire someone who can do it for you, so you can focus on building a team.

Second, they want to take a new initiative but lack the skill to plan and execute it well. So they hire an expert who has done it before. For example, you’ve been successful at getting clients through face-to-face meetings and in-person demos. But you find it to be a time-consuming process, since your prospects haven’t heard about your business and you have to spend some time educating them about your startup. So you want to try out content marketing to build awareness about your business, but you don’t know how it is done. So you hire a content marketer with 2-3 years of experience, who can help you with it.

Once you have a clear idea about why you need to make your first hire, you’ll know what kind of person you need, and what role he/she will play in your startup.

2. In what capacity will your first hire work for you?

There are various ways of employing a person in your startup. Evaluate each option and determine the best one that fits your requirements.

  • Intern – If you need a helping hand for a short period of 1-2 months, interns are the perfect candidates for it. You can easily reach out to local colleges to hire a summer intern. For example, if you run an online store, you can hire an intern to promote your business on online communities such as Quora or Reddit, write blog posts for you and even research other businesses for potential partnerships.
  • Part-time employee/Freelancer – If you’re looking for an experienced professional with a rich skillset, but can’t afford their salary, then you might consider hiring a part-time employee for your business. You can also hire freelancers for 6-8 month long projects. If you’re unable to find quality hires in your locality, think about allowing remote work. Startups like Buffer have a 100% remote workforce and it has worked out great for them. Overall, it’s much cheaper to hire part-time/remote employees and freelancers, than a full-time employee.
  • Full-time employee – If your objective is to build a highly cohesive team of productive people, then you need to hire full-time employees. You can entrust them with long-term projects as well as groom them for promotion. Also, they will easily absorb any ad-hoc work as well as assume multiple responsibilities, typical in every startup.

3. Do you need a strategic or tactical person?

Determine if your first hire needs to be a tactical person, such as a web developer who will manage your website, or a strategic employee like an online marketing manager who can draw a digital marketing strategy for your startup and help you build a winning team to execute it.

The advantage of hiring tactical people is that they provide in-depth experience in a specific area. If your startup is facing a really specific problem such as a poor social media presence or low visibility on Google, then you can hire for specialist roles such as Social media marketer or SEO analyst to grow your business. However, they tend to lack the ability to see the big picture and come up with winning strategies. Hire them only after you have a clear roadmap about your business, one that you can use to lay out their tasks and milestones.

4. How will you train your new employee to deliver the best?

Your first hires will have a significant impact on your startup’s work culture and set the tone for your business. Before you begin hiring, be clear about your values – what is important to you and what your startup will stand for. Once you hire your employees, clearly communicate those values to them. Tell them the story of your business – how it started, what problem it solves and who your customers are.

Also, highlight the problems you’re facing currently, whether it’s hiring or business growth or increased competition, so they know how they can help you the most. Create an onboarding process that makes them feel welcome in your startup and makes it easy to quickly learn the ropes.

If you’re hiring someone to take over your day-to-day tasks such as lead generation, then create a process document that clearly lists out the steps they can follow, without any supervision, and achieve same results as you do. Use job shadowing to provide on-the-job training, monitor them closely for a week or two, and once you’re happy with their performance, you can switch to daily or weekly touch bases.

5. Are you ready from a legal perspective?

Not all hires work out well. So it’s important to protect your fledgling business legally. Make sure that you have an employment contract in place. Discuss it with your advisors and lawyers to ensure that there are no loopholes in your documents. The last thing you need while growing your startup is a legal headache.

Hiring your first employee is a big step for your startup. Do it the right way, so that your first employee works with you for a long-time and delivers immense value for your business.