The Do’s and Don’ts To Building Your A-Team

What every startup founder needs to know before hiring

The entrepreneur and Lean Startup experts on the leadership team at the George Washington University Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (GW) says the#1 reason startups fail is because they build something nobody wants. The #2 reason? Poor hiring practices.

This year’s 2017 Startup Career Fair Guest Panel at GW brought together prominent figures in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Washington, D.C., where they discussed what it takes to build a successful startup. Among discussing the top concerns of entrepreneurs including funding and network, the topic they returned to most: how your founding team can make or break your company.

Here’s what you need to do, and don’t do, before you bring on your first new hire.

Don’t: Try to be everyone.
Do: Find the experts in their field.

Your first employees are the most important.

You need people who are going to help you build your company and create a rock-solid foundation for future growth.

“It’s about finding people that have the skills that you don’t have and allowing them to bring a different dimension to the company,” explained Junaid Shams, CEO & Co-Founder of Rooam.

Are you great at coding but terrible at finance? Do you excel at one-on-one conversation but are terrified at the thought of presenting to a crowd? Figure out what you need most and create those positions to start building your team.

But, “your job descriptions should reflect careful thought as to the roles the individual will fill,” suggests Entrepreneur Magazine. Don’t hold interviews until you know exactly who you need and don’t over hire too quickly. Burning through capital early on can certainly lead to a quick and painful end to any startup.

For Jason Haber, a GW alumnus who spoke recently on the Business of Doing Good at the GW Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s new startup incubator space, he outlined his dream team for a social good startup:

Don’t: Discount chemistry.
Do: Evaluate personalities.

Understanding who you are and the types of personalities you work great with is a key component to successfully building a cohesive team.

“I sent every person I hired through a series of personality tests to see if they were similar to top performers,” says Michael Lastoria, CEO and founder, &Pizza.

Profile yourself and do the same with your candidates.Try to suss out certain qualities through a series of interview questions: closed, open, and behavioral.

“By asking the right questions, recruiters are more likely to find fitting candidates,” advises Sharlyn Lauby of Mashable. At the end of the day, it comes down to understanding qualifications. Traits, like emotional composure or ego, can be the difference between success or failure in business.

Don’t: Make communication the exception.
Do: Make it the rule.

When you first get started, the easy part seems like its communication. “When you’re a team of two to three people, you’ll know what everyone’s spending their time on,” said Paul Gleger of General Assembly DC.

Are the long term strategy goals aligned among the team? Does everyone understand their role and expectations? What are your fail-and-recovery responses?

Transparency is key in any venture, but especially in startups. It not only keeps everyone on the same page, but helps team members work towards a united goal, recover from mistakes, learn together, and avoid future pitfalls.

As a business grows, so does its communication and management systems. With a plethora of communication tools and apps out there teams can stay connected, keep tabs on project progression, and even brainstorm with each other despite location and without losing sight of the central goal: to successfully grow a startup into an established business.

See the 36 A-Teams that made it to the next round of the 2017 GW New Venture Competition.

Interested in becoming a startup’s first hire? Keep these 3 things in mind:

#1. Find your passion.

#2. Diversify your skills. Make technology part of the equation.

#3. Know why you want to work for a company.

Understand the core mission of the company and be able to speak to it with confidence and passion. “You want employees who have a vision and passion for what your company is doing,” advises Neil Patel, founder of Crazy Egg, in Forbes.