5 Tips For Making the First Business Hire at a Start-up

This article was first published on Huffington Post on Dec 6, 2016

Linkedin Co-founder, Reid Hoffman reminds us of the importance of teamwork with his message — “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

His poignant quote hits the point home hard — a successful business is the result of teamwork. Making the first business hire is often a crucial turning point for many Silicon Valley startups — one that signals the commitment and maturity of the venture. A business hire is a non-technical resource that helps grow the company with skills such as Sales, Marketing, and Customer Management, among others.

Computer History museum

The nuances in making this decision are abundant. When is a good time to make the first business hire? Where should you look and what skills should you prioritize? These questions can be daunting and can cause unnecessary delays. For the most part, the answers to these questions depend on the type of venture you’re running, the skills of the founders, and the investment stage of the business.

To gain further insight on this matter, we set out to uncover the challenges and solutions to making the first business hire. We spoke to 5 start-up founders from Y Combinator’s S15 cohort about their process and experiences.

Tip #1: Be clear why you are hiring

Fetch provides all-inclusive by-the-hour truck rentals online. Co-founder Adam Steinberg has been the first business hire for other startups in his early career.

Steinberg asserts that when he was looking to make the first business hire at his previous startups, he based his decision on whether he needed to scale a function or needed to bring in someone as an expert to initiate a function. He found talented candidates eager to make a difference at meetups, universities, and online connections.

He continues, “Most people think that startups are like mini-Googles or mini-Facebooks and doubt their ability to fit the criteria of a first business hire. I wish more people would directly get in touch and demonstrate their interest in the company. “

Pexel. Be clear of the why

Tip #2: Know the impact of the hire on your team and the business

Autonomous shuttle manufacturer, Auro.ai provides self-driving vehicles to universities, corporate parks, and residential communities. Co-founder Jit Ray Chowdhury admits to being cautious about making the first business hire. Their vehicles can be manufactured at a certain speed and driving more growth can prove to be detrimental if they cannot meet the demand fast enough.

He is also wary of the change in dynamics of the team as a competent business hire could command a much higher salary than the others on the team. The decision to hire is a tricky one for a complex physical product. A successful sales or marketing hire could mean you could be biting more than you can chew.

Auro Robotics — Self-driving shuttles

Tip #3: Experience in the industry can trump other skills

Justin Boogaard is the co-founder of GoGoGrandparent. It is a service for older adults to take care of aging, far away loved ones. He admits that it’s easier to hire for business than engineers or designers.

“Business hires have the gift and curse of a very clear measuring stick — they are hired to make more money than they cost.” However, when it came to hiring for GoGoGrandparent, experience working for a similar company was the key differentiator.

“It was only when we started looking at folks who worked on competitive products in the past did we realize we had found our hiring channel”, said Boogaard.

He echoed the sentiments of Ray Chowdhury of Auro.ai who also prefered selecting amongst candidates who had experience in the car-sharing vertical.

Pexel — Experience with similar company is valuable

Tip #4: Passion for the product and industry can prove to be the best choice

Claire is a chatbot for testing consumer and retail products that enables companies to scale focus groups over chat. Misha Laskin, one of Claire’s co-founders, shared the team’s experience looking for their first business hire about six months ago — which also happened to be their first hire.

“We decided to make a business hire to help with sales and customer happiness so that I could spend more time building the product.”

He continues, “Although we had other great candidates with experience and amazing backgrounds, our ultimate hire stood out because he went out of his way to understand our business and where he could help. He did something nobody else did — he set up sales calls and customer interviews to understand what they liked or didn’t like about our product.”

Pexel: Passion for the product or industry says a lot

Tip #5: Know the most important criteria to judge performance

Storyworth is a startup that helps families record personal stories and prints them as keepsake books. Co-founder Nick Baum shares that they made the first business hire after raising the seed round as they wanted to start building community and help customers immediately.

Says Baum, “Because our first employee would be interacting directly with our customers, it was really important to find someone who understood the personality and voice of our brand. I sent the candidates three customer emails — a nice one, a sad one, and an angry one — and asked them to write a reply. I hired the woman who wrote a better response than I would have written myself!”

Pixabay: Responding to customers using the voice and personality of the brand


There are some commonalities in all the experiences we uncovered. By clearly understanding the reasons why you are making your first business hire, you can avoid hiring the wrong person or looking in the wrong places.

Passion for the product is something that impressed most founders and a potential hire can stand out by demonstrating this in their communication. Better still, initiating the communication may help you get an edge over the competition.

When a startup team knows the criteria for success, their first business hire can be the best decision to achieve it.


Rupali Shah: Twitter, Linkedin, Medium

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