This penultimate article in the series on Sramana Mitra’s 1MX1M virtual accelerator focuses on the all-important issue of building the correct team. A fully functioning team needs to be built to get things done and to present to potential investors, all balanced against managing costs.

Steve Jobs about putting together a team: "When you're in a startup, the first 10 people will determine whether the company succeeds or not."

And, "Make sure you're hiring only A-players." Hire a few B-players, he said, and they hire B's and C's, and pretty soon the whole operation is going to pot.

Time and time again,the #1 challenge that most startup founders speak about is recruiting people.It’s not raising money, closing deals, doing sales, finding partners. Its hiring people, by far the hardest and most exasperating part of launching a successful startup. At first, it will seem near impossible, as there is a limited number of truly exceptional people out there. Of those people, only a small percentage will have the skills, experience, drive and character that you are looking for. And of those people, only a fraction will fit personality and culture-wise with you and your early team.

Typically startups don’t offer the same salaries and benefits found at larger companies. Some argue that the risk is higher. At minimum, there’s a perceived higher risk working at a startup. And in a lot of cases (especially in markets that aren’t as startup-centric), university graduates don’t even realize that startup opportunities exist.

The pointers below assumes you are a founder of a startup, you’re bootstrapping as best you can, you don’t have unlimited resources to pay 10% of annual package recruiting fees, you won’t settle for B-players, and you know what you’re looking for. If this is you, read on.

1. Have a clear vision for what your company will look like.

Know what you want your company to look like once you fill all the early positions you’ve earmarked as essential. When everyone across a company shares a clear mission and vision, a company becomes a magnet for the best and brightest. Identify your long-term mission and vision and share it with employees to help them “sell the company.” That will help prospects see your vision of the future and get excited about it with you.

The mission is the entrepreneur’s most compelling case for why the startup is going to achieve greatness. At the core of this case is a passionately held belief that what the startup aspires to do is important. That passion might come from the desire to make the world a better place, the excitement that comes from being certain that the startup could capture a great economic opportunity that nobody else has seen, or the simple desire to solve a problem that perplexes the founder.

2. Know your non-negotiables.

Have an unmistakable sense for what each position requires. For example, you may need two full-stack developers (one iOS-focused and one web-focused), one designer and eventually one marketer. These people may need to be geographically dispersed or able to work from home so unimpeachable character is probably a non-negotiable. Make sure you know what you need.

3. Clear your desk.

Once you’ve decided you’re ready to hire for a position, clear your desk of everything else you think you have to take on, so that you are free to commit 90 percent of your waking hours to searching, networking and recruiting for that position. You cannot recruit key early positions in your “free time.” First of all, you have no free time. Secondly, it will take every ounce of your being to go from here to hire!

4. Write a well-written job description.  

Write an EXCEPTIONALLY articulate, unique and distinguishing job description. Be as specific as you can about the kind of person and talent you are looking for. The more specific you are, the more likely that you will:

a) attract top candidates who feel they are a fit for your unique startup and 

b) disincentivise ill-fitting candidates from applying and thereby wasting their and your time.

5. Use social media channels.

Require candidates to send you their LinkedIn profiles, not resumes. CVs are dry, static documents. A good LinkedIn profile contains everything a resume does and then some, including written references from past and current colleagues, the number of LinkedIn connections, and a photo. Search and network extensively on LinkedIn. Send well-crafted and short LinkedIn InMails to your ideal candidates regardless whether you have a personal connection to them or they claim to be “looking” for new opportunities. Everyone’s available for the right opportunity.

Use Twitter when promoting any new openings at your startup; tweet with special hashtags for #hiring, #startupjobs and whatever industry or trade you're hiring from to get the attention of the right candidates.

Compile a list of potential candidates and evaluate their Twitter activity by looking at their number of followers as well as the quality of their tweets.

Referrals are the lifeblood of many a business. It works the same when it comes to recruitment via social media. Ask your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn contacts for solid leads for the new position in your company. By having someone come pre-qualified, you end up with (usually) a better candidate and someone whom you can trust.

6. Require candidates to submit personalised cover emails.

Have them explain why your startup interests them and why they are the best candidate for the job. If they don’t take the time to write this personalized cover email, don’t even look at their LinkedIn profile. They’re not serious. And they probably can’t write.

7. Use recruiters/agencies intelligently.

Recruiters can be your best friend, or they can suck up your time and take all the money you don’t have. Find great ones and convince them to take far less than 10% commission in the interest of receiving lots of new job postings as you grow. Either that or negotiate a flat fee per employed recruit.

8. Flood the market with outreach.  

Post job descriptions everywhere that is even remotely relevant…wherever a great candidate might go. You NEVER know where your eventual candidate might be, so plant your seeds in many places. And of course, ask your network. All you need is that ONE great candidate that may just revolutionise your business.

9. Work quickly.

Review each interested candidate’s profile instantly. The great people get snatched up quickly.

10. Refine your pitch.

You need to SELL to these great candidates. Just like you’re going to sell your early customers. If you believe in your product, your vision, your team and you, then this part should be a breeze.

Create short-term goals as a series of 'real options.'

Short-term goals are specific milestones that the entrepreneur sets over a period of months, and the idea of real options means that each short-term goal is a frugal experiment. Setting good short-term goals reflects how effective the CEO is at getting stuff done. For example, the first short-term goal might be to figure out the startup’s business model, the next might be to get customers to use or pay for the product, and the third to expand success from one market to five around the world.

Articulate the startup's long-term goals.

How will an employee get a return on the stock they receive in exchange for giving up their life to your startup over the next five years? Long-term goals describe a tangible way that the entrepreneur will measure the venture’s success, say, five years into the future. Long-term goals include being the leader in an important new market, becoming a big public company, being acquired by a bigger company, or remaining permanently private and independent.

11. Conduct your initial interview via video.

No audio-only calls. A 30-minute Skype video call is all you need to figure out if it’s worth setting up an in-person interview.

12. Call references.

This is not a formality. Conduct two to three reference calls. Make sure you do this. You can obtain phenomenal “colour” on the candidate such as how they optimally work, what makes them tick, what challenges they need to overcome, what they are better at than anyone else, how much did their colleagues like them, and most importantly, what level of integrity and what kind of character is the candidate.

13. Sometimes a done deal just isn't a done deal.

You may get pretty deep into the process of finding, interviewing, recruiting, selling, offering, hiring and starting a new person…and then for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work out. It happens.  Get over it. Hit the recruiting pavement the next morning with new energy.

Three other key points:

  • Make it easy for people to apply.
  • Referrals are key.
  • Building buzz is good for business too.

Hiring an early team of A-players is not easy, and it isn't for the faint of heart. The most important thing is to be persistent and never give up.

“People inspire you, or they drain you. PICK THEM WISELY.”
Hans F. Hasen