This is How We Can Nail Our Startup Hiring

“Take care of the people, the products, and the profits — in that order.”

It’s a popular, yet simple saying — but it’s deep.

“Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far and if we don’t do it, the other two won’t matter.

But it won’t really matter if we don’t hire the right people. Hiring is one of the most important jobs in any startup yet this is exactly where things go wrong.

Either we hire the wrong people, or we hire the right people for the wrong jobs. Sometimes we go on an expansion spree after a funding round and hire blindly. First, we have to understand that hiring isn’t about getting a bunch of smart people aboard.

Hiring consists of getting the right people on the train, the wrong people off the train, and the right people in the right seats.

Here are few lessons (I’ve learned) for an early stage startup to keep in mind while hiring.

1. TIY — Try it Yourself

Before hiring someone for a job position, try doing it yourself first. It will make you understand and appreciate the nature of the work. You’ll be able to set the right kind of expectations — for yourself and also for your new hire and will know what a job well-done looks like.

In my last startup, we hired a programmer after it became tough for us to handle the code. My co-founder handled most of the backend while the new hire ran tests and took care of the bugs.

TIY helps you become a better manager as you’ll be supervising people who are doing a job that you’ve done before. You’ll be able to set the right expectations and would know when to criticize and when to support.

Things are usually very dynamic in an early stage startup and in the midst of the chaos we often miscommunicate or set the wrong expectations for the new hires. This is one strategy that handles these issues pretty well.

I written about this before:

2. Hire Only When You Really Need

Vitamins and painkillers. Don’t hire for vitamins; hire to kill the pain.

Start by asking: What if we don’t hire? Is the extra work that’s burdening us really necessary? Can we tweak something and make the process better? Or can we survive without doing it?

This will help you prioritize!

The right time to hire is when there’s more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time. There should be things you can’t do anymore and it will take a lot of time to acquire new skill sets. If you notice the quality level dropping, it means that you are hurting. That will be a good time to hire. Not before that.

3. Don’t Board Everybody on the Train

A lot of startups are addicted to hiring. Some hire just because it’s the hiring season. They’ll hear about some great college graduate/dropout and invent a position just to lure her in.

You’ll be doing your company more harm than good if you bring in talented people who have nothing plausible to do. Pass on hiring people you don’t need, even if you think that person’s a great catch.

Problems start when you have more people than you need. You start inventing work to keep everyone busy and start building half-assed products.

Don’t worry about the ones that got away. It’s much worse to have people in your team who aren’t doing anything meaningful. There’s plenty of talent out there. When you do have a real need, you’ll always find someone who can get the job done.

Afterthought

When you rapidly hire a ton of people, there are always new faces around, and everyone is usually unfailingly polite. There is not enough candor and everyone tries to avoid any conflict or drama.

There is more courtliness and less forthrightness. No one says, “This idea sucks.” People are likely to appease instead of challenge. This is highly detrimental.

Appeasement is what gets early stage startups into trouble. You need to be able to tell people when they are wrong. You need a tight environment where everyone feels safe enough to be honest when things get tough. You need to know how far you can push someone. You need to know what people really mean when they say something.

Your first hires should ideally be ready to drown with you if someday your ship sinks. You have to build relationships with them on a personal level. Hire slowly. Build friendships. It’s the only way to avoid winding up with a bunch of strangers.