September 25, 2015

Hiring the Right Employees for Every Phase of Your Startup

TowerHiring the right employees is crucial to your startup’s success. My company, UpCounsel, would not be where it is today if not for the unconventional, passionate, and extremely hard-working team that comes into the office each morning ready to further grow and expand this company.

I’m very lucky to have such a persevering and intelligent group beside me, but “luck” was nowhere near the driving factor when I was choosing prospective hires. An immense amount of time and effort was (and continues to be) involved in every decision made here.

To put this in perspective, I spent nearly 200 hours trying to find the right data analyst for our team. This amount of time is extraordinary, but proves that in order to get the best — which we did! — you have to work for it. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

With that being said, it’s important to know the type of worker you need for each specific stage of your company’s lifecycle. Here’s a simple guide to hiring the right employees for every phase of your startup:

Stage 1: The Jack of All Trades and Individual Contributors (1-10 Employees)

The onset of a new business is the most volatile stage. Your team will be dealing with the highest levels of uncertainty, and the challenges  you all face will change dramatically on a day-to-day basis. Thus, at the beginning, you’ll need to hire people with versatility — those who thrive on creative problem-solving and strategizing.

These initial employees will be developing your mission statement, product, business processes, and more. They are the inventors, designers, and R&D types who have experience developing new products and businesses, as well as the confidence to take on projects themselves with little to no supervision.

Stage 2: The Managers, Builders, and Improvers (11-50 Employees)

At this stage, you’ll need people who can grow your business at a fast pace and manage the rapid rates of change that accompany launching a big new product or service. I’d advise looking for managers and builKayakders — people who can take the initiative and who demonstrate strong organizational skills.

Since you’re a startup and are building your business from scratch, it’s best to catalog certain aspects of your business as you grow. All of the nitty-gritty work should be documented and organized so that when new employees are onboarded, they have a solid base of knowledge from which to learn right off the bat.

In addition, you’ll also likely need improvers — people who understand how to reengineer and enhance inefficient processes; people who can ensure your growth remains sustainable. By adding scalability and structure to your company’s systems, improvers can enforce direction and stability by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracies and gridlocks. The best candidates for these improver positions are detail-oriented and will deliver exceptional customer service.

Stage 3: Experienced Managers and Specialized Contributors (50-200 Employees)

One of the many upsides to this stage (if done correctly) will be your ability to predict your business needs further in the future. This means you can start hiring qualified managers — people who can follow established processes and who have histories of repeated task execution at high-quality levels.

It’s also best to hire in-house counsel and contractors to build the executive team. This in-house staff can help you accomplish specialized tasks in an efficient and knowledgeable manner once they’ve been integrated with your team and understand your business and legal needs.

Stage 4: Specialists (200+)

WindowOnce you’ve made it to this stage of your business, you’ll need to start hiring much more specialized employees. Hire a VP of talent, along with specialized recruiters for each company division; public relations and social media specialists are also great additions to your business, and they can develop the company’s brand and image in a variety of spaces and platforms.

This stage is the most difficult to hire for because you’ll need people who can accomplish highly specific tasks (and do them well). You may have to look far outside of your established employee networks to find the right candidates.

Throughout every stage of this process, remember this: at no point can you compromise on hiring the absolute best people for the job, nor can you sacrifice building great company culture in the process. It may take a while to hire the right people, but these people are going to ultimately be the determining factor in whether or not your business succeeds. So put in that work — and good luck!

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Matt Faustman is the cofounder of UpCounsel, Inc., and serves as its chief executive officer. Matt Faustman is responsible for the company's business strategy and legal community. Prior to UpCounsel, Matt Faustman worked as a startup attorney in Silicon Valley helping consumer and enterprise Internet companies get started and grow. Matt has been at Latham & Watkins LLP, Santa Clara University (JD/MBA), and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (BS). For more information, connect with Matt on LinkedIn.