Early in my career as an employer, I found myself on a Nietzschean quest for the “super employee” -- the perfect person who could do a lot of things well and very little wrong. It didn’t occur to me at the time that it’s not realistic to think that people come without failures and shortcomings. A lot of entrepreneurs have unrealistic expectations. They are not purists, but they expect a lot from themselves and others.
However, these lofty expectations can serve entrepreneurs well, particularly when their companies are in their infancy. In truth, the first five hires at a startup will hugely impact that business’ future. It is critically important to get those first hires right. In my opinion, a single bad hire in the beginning can derail your business.
In my experience, building a successful startup is a lot like making a stew. You need a lot of different ingredients; people with different experiences and skillsets (and, frankly, weaknesses) that complement one another nicely. Here are the five types of individuals that I believe you need in order to build a successful startup, especially in the technology space:
1. Someone who is creative.
First, you need someone with an element of creativity. This person is going be the sparkplug behind product inception. They have a hunch or thesis that they can solve something through software or otherwise. In short, they see a product that can be built.
2. Someone who is detail-oriented.
The creative person will need to work with someone who is very detail-oriented to develop a concrete plan for how to build the product/service/offering. In a technology company, this person would build out the specs or shell of the product. Essentially, this second person will help provide the research and information necessary to put the first person’s idea into action.
3. Someone who is process-oriented.
Next, with a more detailed set of specifications in tow, you need to involve someone who is more process-oriented. This is the person who will make sure that there’s a system in place to actually put the concept behind the product or service into action. This person ensures that each member of the team knows his or her role.
4. A builder.
The process-oriented person would, in turn, loop in a fourth team member with the technical skills to actually build the product. Especially in the technology world, this builder would be a developer or engineer. After acquiring this employee with technical expertise, you now have an idea, research and information backing up that idea, the shell of a product, a system in place to get the product built and the technical skills to do so. At this point your stew is ready, correct? Not quite yet.
5. Someone who is impatient and highly deadline-oriented.
You’re still missing the garlic (or in this case, the cayenne pepper) for your stew. You need one final person involved -- one who is going to be highly deadline-oriented, fast-paced and, frankly, a little impatient. This person will, for lack of a better term, hold people’s feet to the fire and hold each party accountable. This last person probably won’t be the most popular person on the team, but he or she is a necessary part of getting across the goal line.
Think about how they work together.
Now things can get quite complicated -- sometimes pretty quickly. You don’t necessarily want that hard-driving person to interface directly with your technical person. You might want to use the process-oriented individual as a buffer. On the other hand, maybe the person with the technical skills needs a kick in the butt.
This is more art than craft. It takes a great deal of judgment on the part of the entrepreneur on how to arrange the people on the team -- or in the stew. The point is that you are trying to offset skills and personalities, and that is tremendously important, especially in the beginning.
Let’s assume you check all of the boxes listed above, and you have assembled a very strong team of people. Even then, those people will come with baggage and shortcomings. This is obvious, but I am convinced after working with hundreds of entrepreneurs that many are unaware of this -- people don’t come with small failings. Their failings tend to be substantial and profound.
High expectations in the hiring process are crucial but expectations of perfection will lead to a kind of chasing-your-tail that can stagnate your business.