You’re the founder of your company; that’s one employee down. You might have a co-founder as well, so make that two. Now what?
Early days at a new startup are exciting times, but they also tend to be lean times. You can’t run out and hire the best executive team, salespeople, marketers, customer service reps, product designers, programmers, and human resources employees all at once. If you’re to get there at all, you have to curate your team from day one.
Some founders tend to focus their hires in fields they understand. Technical founders, for example, often first search for programmers. Founders with sales backgrounds might think hiring salespeople matters most. Before you blow your payroll budget, though, think about all the functions your team has to cover. And above all, think about those you can’t do alone.
Not sure where to start? Before you hire an entire coding camp or MBA program’s graduating class, check out this list of the most critical startup hires:
1. Growth expert
You became an entrepreneur because you had an idea for a product or service that a market desperately needed. You and your co-founders might have the skills to build that, but do you know how to generate demand for it?
If not, bring a marketer on board right away. Engineers and salespeople are important, but your first port of call should be someone who can create and guide growth. It doesn’t matter how revolutionary your invention is if nobody can find it.
Fortunately, this is a role you can fill on a part-time or contract basis. Consider bringing in an outsourced CMO. That way, you get expert-level marketing advice without an executive-level price tag.
2. Product master
Lots of startup leaders spend too much time working in their business and too little working on it. No matter how great a product manager you are, you can’t steer the ship while trying to build the rudder. At small technical companies, the chief product engineer might own this role. At larger, service-focused ones, a production manager might be more appropriate.
In either case, pick a good communicator with a curious mind. Particularly before the minimum viable product is ready to ship, your product manager will be fielding lots of questions from staff, investors, and consumers alike.
3. Sales star
Stellar sales representatives cost money, but they more than justify their salaries with the revenue they bring in the door. Just be careful not to make that commission carrot too tempting. You don’t want to bring somebody on board who cares about closing deals more than building the right initial client base.
Oceans of content have been written on what distinguishes strong and weak salespeople, but startups should search for one trait above all: versatility. Not many reps can juggle both inside calls and outside demos, but until you can afford a larger team, you need someone who can wear multiple hats.
Should you take on some sales responsibilities yourself? It depends. Many founders got where they are through their sales skills. If you plan to do your own sweet talking, focus your search on either inside or outside sales — whichever option you don’t want to handle on your own.
4. Administrative mastermind
Finally, your startup needs someone who can keep everything running while you and the rest of your team focus on growth. This person’s role should be somewhere between office manager and administrative assistant. He or she should be able to handle everything from utility bills to calendar support to team lunches.
For this role, look for the human embodiment of reliability. At the startup stage, a single unanswered investor call or forgotten permit application can be the beginning of the end. Ideally, your administrative helper should also be able to tackle basic HR functions like payroll.
Whatever you do, don’t think of this person as a secretary. Transcribing meetings and scheduling coffee might be the least important part of his or her job. Instead, consider your assistant your second set of eyes and hands. He or she probably sees more of what goes wrong — and has more to do with solving it — than anyone else at your company.
Far more than established companies do, your startup needs A-level players at the right time and in the right seats. Your needs may vary depending on your size and industry, but at least you’ve got a blueprint for the path ahead.