How To Hire The Best Team For Your Startup
Trying to choose a future employee in the space of a couple of short interviews is a skill honed only by considerable experience, so we talked to four startup founders to learn how they get past the well-prepared answers and perfected resumes to find out which candidate is really best for the job.
A few recurring themes were emphasised by the founders. The first was to hire a diverse team. Stray away from hiring people that are too similar to you, and remember that a diverse team equates to different perspectives and ideas, and ultimately increased innovation.
Secondly, remember that passion is essential but also analyse where that passion is stemming from—what is their motivation for wanting to work for you?
Finally, don’t ask generic questions that most candidates are already prepared for; instead ensure you pay attention to the minute details in an interview. How easily can they carry the conversation? How do they treat others when they’re walking through the office? Are they interested in getting to know other team members?
Here, four founders delve into the biggest lessons they've learnt while hiring for their startups.
Oon Tian Sern
Founder and CEO of mental health platform, Acceset
“The one thing I look for in a candidate is intrinsic motivation,” says Oon Tian Sern. Oon understands that for most young people, choosing to work at a startup comes with risks and oftentimes means a trade off when it comes to security and pay. So when a candidate shows considerable interest in joining his company he asks himself, “What makes this person motivated?" Because it’s easy to get initially interested in something, but it's harder to stay motivated once the novelty wears off, he adds. It’s important to analyse: what drives this candidate? What is their underlying motivation? Will their motivations benefit the company in both the short and long term?
While passion is important to Oon, he believes it is not enough on its own. He warns that it's key to ensure your candidate also has essential skills they can bring to the role, otherwise they’ll need too much direction from others as well as considerable structure—which isn’t always going to be feasible, especially in a startup.
Hiring someone that can offer your company a different perspective is important too, Oon says. "I'm more focused on the big picture and tend to go into the non-technical details, so I always try to find someone that works differently to me, like finding that technical aspect, and therefore covering as much ground as possible."
Lastly, Oon emphasises it's not always about finding someone who is already perfect. "Instead, I look for potential. I seldom look for the finished product, because if you're coming in as a finished product then the company cannot add value to you, and then there's no reason for you to stay," he says. He is wary to hire people who are likely to leave quickly because he feels it causes poor team morale and takes time to rehire. "That's why I'd rather hire slowly and carefully than hire fast and wrong."
Founder and CEO of media platform, Green Queen
“Hire people who want to work for you,” says Sonalie Figueiras. It might seem simple and straightforward but it's actually not, she warns. “I have worked with people who were there because they had to, and the difference between their attitude and commitment compared to people who really want to work for your company because of your mission and your values is really stark.”
“Startups tend to be lean and hustling hard, so even one semi-enthusiastic person can take away from the overall goals,” Figueiras says. “They can also negatively impact others in the team. Startups can offer really unique roles that corporations cannot, so we need to make sure we are onboarding people who are truly passionate, interested in and motivated by our mission.”
It’s also important that the candidate shares the same values as your company culture, she says, which allows for a much smoother onboarding process and is a great reassurance for employers in the future when the candidate represents the company to clients and partners. “That’s why it’s essential your company's personality and mission shines through in the job description and recruiting materials,” Figueiras adds.
“One thing I’ve also learnt is that the same person can either do really well or struggle depending on the environment,” Figueiras says. She highlights the importance of ensuring the candidate will fit well into your existing team and finding out what motivates them so you can determine how best to support them within your company.
Co-founder and creative director of food and beverage operator and developer, The Moment Group
"Use your gut. I think the most important thing when hiring someone is that you genuinely like them... and that they like you too," Abba Napa says. "The best work, I think at least, gets done when you enjoy who you work with. That way, even on the hardest days, it isn’t so bad. My partners and my team are people I will happily share a nightcap with after the perils of a hard day because I personally like them. I think 'like' and 'respect' are closely tied together and respect is key to the success of any partnership."
Napa admits that she often doesn't actively recruit for job openings, instead many of her current employees "walked into our doors on their own accord and said they wanted to work for us and wanted to craft a role where they could impact the organisation. And every single one of those people who did became some of the best team members I have had the pleasure to work with. That’s grit and gumption right there," she says. "So I suppose a tip is to find a way to ascertain if those traits naturally exist in an individual. How much do they want something and what will they do to achieve it?"
Lastly, Nappa believes that hiring someone who is intent on following your own personal path can be a good asset too. "Because they are motivated to learn, practise and apply themselves to do better than you—and that serves the growth of your team, product or organisation when harnessed appropriately," she says. "But you have to be cognisant then of the realistic timeframes of employment with this type of a candidate. Your team structure should be built to handle a steady stream of talent coming through it." And be ready to consider that potentially, these hires may end up being your competitor in the future.
Co-founder and CEO of edtech company, Xccelerate
"Missionary > Mercenary: I always prioritise candidates based on how much their eyes light up when they hear about our mission and purpose to advance the human race by working with enterprises, government and individuals on fourth industrial revolution skills (RPA, AI, coding, UI/UX design, blockchain) and their desire to inspire purpose through education," says Lavine Hemlani.
He also believes that as a CEO of a fast-growing company, 25 percent of your time should be spent recruiting high quality talent, to plan ahead. "For the right candidate, a role should be created," he says. "Its important to define clearly what you are looking for—what does success mean—and interview multiple different candidates for each role objectively to understand what “good”, “great” and “not great” looks like for the role and your company."
Though it's not always possible, Lavine is a big believer in doing work trials if you can. "Interviews are designed for both parties to put their best foot forward. But I find for critical roles, giving each other a day or two of actually working together on a project or being a part of meetings gives far more depth to understand if there is a mutual, long-term fit."