Hiring the right people is crucial for any company.
But at a startup, your early hires can make or break the success of your venture.
There are two early hires critical to moving forward and getting the funding you need to grow.
The first comes during the pre-funding stage.
At that point, you’re looking for a partner. A co-founder (if you want to call them that). A person that helps you get this idea off the ground and running. Some people try to do it on their own, but I look for help once I decide to start an idea.
Once you’ve got your seed funding, there’s one more hire that can make or break your startup.
But let’s start at the beginning.
The Partner Search
What you’re looking for initially is co-founding talent — someone who has a resume you don’t.
For example, I had no travel industry or rental car experience when I started Silvercar. I needed someone with a resume that filled those gaps. So, my partner ended up being an airline CEO who had worked on a startup airline. He had 20 years more experience, had worked for big airlines, had knowledge I didn’t.
But there are other considerations as well.
Are you going to enjoy working with this person? Are they smart enough to help you create the business plan?
And most importantly, can they help you get funded? Not necessarily through capital connections, but with the resume and the experiences that makes you look better as a venture?
Here’s something else to think about: Is this person going to be able to make it through a long period where they’re not getting paid?
I didn’t bring on my CMO, Jamie, until we were funded, because she’s younger and couldn’t afford to suffer through months with no pay.
In the pre-funding stage, you look at all angles. You look at the big picture. You try to bring in someone who’s in it for the long haul.
The Seed Funding Hire
After you’ve been funded and are in the seed phase, you look for a different hire.
You still want someone who can fill in gaps but has a specific skill set.
At this point, roles are more defined — yet not overly defined. It’s more like a consulting team where people have general responsibilities.
It’s good to augment the staff with one person who can work in a research-heavy role, because you probably haven’t done as much research as necessary.
For me, that person was Jamie. She’s now our Chief Brand Ambassador and CMO at Washlava. When I hired her, people were shocked that I brought on a CMO so early.
They said, “There’s nothing to actually market at that point, right? It’s just a concept, and you’re spending money on research and development. Why would you hire someone to do marketing?”
I brought Jamie on because she knew the data and could do extremely accurate market sizings. Any consumer research we needed, she did it. She spent three years in the laundromat industry, and she knew who to call for more information.
She was grounded in the research. And now, she’s grounded in our value proposition because she helped build it.
It’s true, there’s not really anything to market to at the beginning stage. But she actually was doing our marketing. She was creating the way our content looked and felt, the brand strategy, the materials to make the venture look attractive.
If it looks sloppy or amateurish, investors won’t bite.
Nor should they. Startups don’t invest heavily in their product early on.
They invest in branding. They invest in the image, the look, the feel of what they’re doing. They’re don’t convince people they can build a great product — they convince everyone they have a good strategy and concept to attack it.
So, you need people who can create structured outputs and do the necessary research.
Sure, there’s belief in the concept going in, but you need to increase that belief and confidence level several times during the seed phase to get to the next point in your funding.
That’s why it’s essential you bring people on who can fill those partner and research roles, who can increase that belief level and help make you attractive to investors.
They may not sound glamorous, but they’re some of the most important hires you’ll make.