The Startup
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The Startup

Hiring a Designer? This Is What A Startup Founder Should Know

Build the perfect team by avoiding these common mistakes most startups make when looking for and hiring designers.

Source: Unsplash

Recently, while on a phone call with a client, I happened to mention that I had just received over 860 applications for a designer position with my company, Humbleteam.

My client, who was struggling to fill a similar position, stopped me mid-sentence and asked me to repeat the number — around 860 applications that led to 100 interviews — for a small startup team of 35, these numbers were astounding for my client to hear.

He wanted to know what I was doing to bring in such a high number of applicants with a wide range of talents.

We’ve mentored over 50 startups, ranging from seed stage with $20–50k investments to Series A funded companies with over $100k+ raised. And through this process, we have established a deep understanding of the most common mistakes startups make when hiring designers for their projects. Mistakes and considerations could be, not only costly but create a chain of events that ultimately lead to a startup’s failure.

Here is what I told my client he needed to know when hiring designers, as well as some helpful tips to combat pitfalls if he wants to be successful in every phase of his startup:

Understand Your Startup’s Needs

Maybe it sounds obvious, but you might be surprised to hear that most startups do not have a true comprehension of the scope of work needed to progress their specific idea through to production. Because of this, founders will often seek out broad solutions, or cast wide nets, instead of trying to hone in on the specific needs.

While a beautiful UI might make a new company platform look nice, the real elements involved in building out the software are lacking and don’t support the early-stage efforts of launching a thoughtful and well-done product.

A fintech startup doesn’t necessarily need a strong branding element when the software and application are more crucial for the founder to be able to generate investments and partnerships needed to move into the next stage. Subsequently, a project that is focused on the user experience will want to make sure their hired designers can handle large creative scope projects, ones that could need to be reinvented several times, and whose interface gives them the edge over their competitors.

In the initial stages of a startup the idea of “let’s just find the best of the best” might feel like a good position to take. But taking the time to sit down and truly identify the project’s needs and objectives for every phase — from idea to seed through growth and expansion — each stage will present new objectives, challenges, and focuses, using a blanket strategy to cover the whole process is the fastest way to failure on your startup’s roadmap.

Hire For The Right Reasons

You put out a job listing for your new startup. You receive a flood of responses right away, and after a few weeks of receiving applications you have narrowed the selection to a handful of interviews, each interview you hear about the candidate’s desire to be a part of a team, work with a new startup, and try their hand at designing something great for you.

This all sounds ideal, right? Except there is one problem, it’s very difficult to vet a new candidate based on an idea. You don’t necessarily need an ambitious team player, you need a specific type of designer who writes a specific type of code and can contribute a high level of concentrated experience for a particular aspect of your seeding project.

Don’t hire superstars when you need to be working with designers who meet your direct needs for your project as it is right now. Be precise, ask the right questions to ensure you are bringing someone on who can take care of exactly what you need to be done. Ask thoroughly about expertise, seek out specific examples, and be extra clear about what it will take to get your startup from A-Z and how they will need to fit in. The more information, the better.

Admit That You Don’t Have a Design Background

You have a brilliant idea, but as the founder, you can’t do it all, so you need to bring people on to help you execute it. This is where your core team comes into play. Not every founder will have the proper design experience to know how to establish, lead, and execute the perfect design process for their startup.

A founder’s main objective is to move the project through its phases successfully, focusing on the end goal, hitting the timelines, fundraising, and bringing on investors. But without expert knowledge of the design aspect, the founder might fall short of hiring a core team of designers that will meet the needs of the startup effectively.

For that reason, you need to admit that you might not have the proper qualifications to vet and hire the right designers for your team. If you miss asking the necessary questions, you could end up with a designer who’s a good fit in theory, but in practice doesn’t have the ideal set of skills to meet your startup’s needs. Missing out on this vital step in the hiring process is not only detrimental to the development of your product but costly and inefficient.

Avoid this mistake by including someone with expertise in the type of design needed for your startup, or outsource the process to an agency that can do it for you.

Don’t Forget How Fast Your Startup Will Grow

As we talked about, one of the major pitfalls to avoid when hiring designers is not asking the right questions during the interview, and not having the proper foundational design knowledge to ensure you are selecting the right candidate.

To add another layer to the process it is important to consider how the design needs of your project will change rapidly as you move through the different stages of your roadmap. As we know with startups, this isn’t a matter of years or months, but instead weeks, or even days. The scalability of the workload, and the precision needs that will occur daily, are almost too unpredictable to hire for.

Maybe for your project that means waiting to hire on a core design team until you are established with consistently applicable deliverables, and utilizing freelancing services to find highly specialized individuals quickly. Or potentially you have the expertise to properly fill out a core design team, but you want to make sure you have established your startup’s growing needs in detailed and dynamic ways before going into the interview process.

Regardless of which approach you take, it is very important to not underestimate just how quickly your project will change. Being proactive, and using all of the resources to stay one step ahead of the process can be just as helpful as finding the perfect designers to help you build your product.

Understand Who You Are Competing With

You put out a job listing that feels like a home run for any ambitious and talented designer, and yet you receive a lot fewer applications than you anticipated. It can feel discouraging and also confusing. Often it is not about the quality of your project, or even what you have to offer the potential hire. In reality, you are playing in the big leagues and you are being outbid by your competition without you even getting a chance to try.

After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies that could go remote did, which created a transition that pushed employment opportunities into the global workforce. Now with a global market, big corporations like Google, and Meta, were able to broaden their talent search, and in turn, hopeful applicants focused their attention on these established companies that could provide the security and benefits they were known for.

Altering your job listing and hiring approach to reflect the fact that your competition will be able to outrank you in certain areas while also highlighting the specific perks that are attainable while working for you, is going to increase your chances of calling in more people who are aligned with your specific needs.

Don’t be intimidated by the global workforce, embrace it for what it has become and the opportunities it will present, use those to your advantage, and broader your views on what the perfect hire could be for your project.

There are many ways to avoid these common pitfalls, but don’t let yourself get caught up in these mistakes before you realize the road you are on. Stay confident and secure in your startup project and focus on finding a team that moves you down the road of success, whether they come from a job listing or an agency, the better understanding you have about your startup’s needs, the better off you will be.

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Sergey Krasotin

Sergey Krasotin

Design director and co-founder at humbleteam.com. https://twitter.com/krasotinsergey

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