5 functions that every non-technical hire should consider when joining an early-stage startup
Joining an early-stage startup as a non-technical hire may seem tricky.
- There are limited resources available to navigate between different career options
- What is available tends to optimize towards a singular path.
So how can generalists position themselves?
After working with over 200+ early-stage startups @join_ef and joining @Portcast_io as one of the first non-tech hires, I’ve seen some striking similarities between the non-technical roles teams were hiring for.
Now granted, my experience is mostly on B2B / Enterprise front, I imagine some would still be transferable to B2C. Maybe less so for deep tech hardware companies.
Here is my hot take on what are some of [top 5 functions] in demand at an early-stage startup.
1) Sales / Customer Support
- You’ll devise a repeatable process to get revenue by converting new leads into paying customers;
- Run customer trials, negotiate and close deals;
- Build a playbook to help scale the process as the team grows.
- One major focus is to figure out ways to accelerate time to revenue. e.g. if your product requires a lengthy trial, training, complex integration, or coordinated deployment — solving those will be crucial from a sales, product, and ops perspective.
- Customer Support. In the early stage, this usually means filling in the gaps where the product expectations might not necessarily meet the existing product capabilities. I’ll leave it at that…
2) Marketing / Growth
Your goal will be to bring awareness to the brand. From defining key messaging including FAB and positioning to executing that message across different channels.
The channels will vary a lot based on your company. Part of the role is figuring out which ones would move the needle the most. e.g. what worked for my team were strong content strategy around proprietary data, basic SEO, attending industry events.
3) Operations / Project Management / Investor Relations
- Understanding what key business indicators are, what they should be. communicating those to the rest of the team;
- Identifying dependencies and silos between teams, creating a process to eliminate those;
- Supporting founders in the fundraising process (depending on the stage)
- Other admin-related tasks: office management, accounting, invoicing, payroll, legal etc.
4) Product / Design / UI/UX / Business Analytics
- Competitor research: understanding the existing market and your product positioning;
- Building mock-ups and prototypes to validate or frequently invalidate features before they go into development;
- Defining wider product strategy and the roadmap;
- and lastly, the execution: working with relevant business, data, engineering, design, etc stakeholders to put the planning into reality.
5) Hiring / Recruitment / Talent Partnerships / People Ops
- Building a talent funnel to fill multiple roles at the same time;
- Creating assets for onboarding and employer branding;
- Setting up partnerships to attract talent (entry-level, internships, full-time).
A side note: the mysterious ‘Business Development’, ‘Operations’ or ‘Chief Of Staff’ titles frequently handle 2+ functions mentioned in the previous post. Be ready to wear multiple hats and keep tight feedback loops between Sales <> Marketing <> Product <> Ops.
That’s it for today.
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I’ll be sharing more tips and insights on what a role of a generalist entails and how to validate the right career path for you.
In the meantime, check out my next post, 4 Step framework to break into tech and early-stage startups if you want to quit a career in law.