Harvest Guide to Recruitment for Startups & Tech Companies

Part 2: Which roles should startups fill first?

When to start hiring and which roles to fill first

Harvest Builders Staff

We’re living in a candidate’s world. Tech companies are struggling to attract the talent they need, especially after the pandemic amped up demand for tech-enabled solutions, amping up demand for tech professionals in response.

In the early days of your business, you make twenty tough decisions before lunch. Most of these tough decisions have to do with deciding where to spend your money and where to save it. If you’re not worrying about how to spend your money, you’re thinking about how to spend your time. 

The issue of time and money comes up a lot when making recruitment decisions. If you hire more people, you’ll have more time to focus on what matters, but it’s unclear whether it’s a financially wise decision to
spend the money just yet. You could continue to work 14-hour days and save your money, but this might stunt your business’ growth and potentially cause you to miss your market. 

So how do you know when you should start hiring
and which roles you should fill first?

The unsatisfying answer is: it depends. Every company is different. That said, “it depends” is not an excuse to simply go with your gut and hire sporadically. Instead, “it depends” is your permission not to just hire for roles you think you need to have. 

Case in point: the CEO role. 

Maybe you don’t need a CEO

Contrary to popular belief, not every startup needs a CEO. Most of the time, one of the founders becomes the CEO. In some cases, founders with a lot of product experience but not a lot of business experience hire a CEO to take on the business strategy and executive decision making. 

A CEO’s main responsibilities are overseeing a company’s operations and making decisions related to a company’s resources. It doesn’t matter if you come from a business administration background, an engineering background, or a marketing background — if you’re the founder, you’re playing the CEO role, regardless of what you put in your email signature. Why? Because you know where your responsibilities lie. 

View your hiring from the same perspective. It’s tempting for founders to fixate on building a roster with specific titles. Instead, look at things the other way around.

What do I need to accomplish over the
next year? 

I need to develop a minimum viable product, find beta testers, collect feedback, release an enhanced version, and acquire early customers. 

Where can I deliver the most value and where
do I have skills gaps?

I have a tech development background, so I can develop the MVP myself. I do not have much experience with growth marketing, and raising awareness and a user base is essential to my MVP’s success. I will also struggle to keep up with the technical workload after
the MVP stage. 

Do I have enough time to fill these skills gaps through learning? 

While I can read about growth marketing, trying to become an expert in this area in a few months is not the most effective use of my time. It would make more sense to hire someone else to take this on. It would also make more sense for me to hire a tech professional to support me as I spend less time building the product. 

What kind of person do I need in this role? 

I need someone who can code in JavaScript.
It would be nice if they could code in Python, but I can fill in those gaps and ask them to start picking up that language. I need someone who is motivated, curious, and a problem solver. They don’t need to know everything, but they do need to be proactive and communicative.

What will this person be doing in this role? Why should they care about the work? 

They will help Canadians keep more money in their pockets by finding deals on groceries, household items, recreational activities, and more with a user-friendly couponing app. It will also connect local businesses
to more customers by providing targeted offers.
They will have significant growth opportunities as the app’s user base grows from one city to the entire country.
They may start off as a Principal Engineer and eventually become a CTO. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, you know what capabilities and attitudes you need in a candidate to help your business meet key milestones. You can recognize a suitable candidate, because you’ve put serious thought into what that candidate needs to know, what you can teach them, and what attitude they’ll need to be receptive to learning opportunities. What you call the role becomes a secondary consideration. 

Forget perfect skills and focus on perfect fit

Avoid falling into the trap of finding “the perfect candidate”. Instead, look for candidates who are excited about working for a startup and understand what it means to wear different hats and deliver results. The people best suited for a startup are people who are excited to contribute to something meaningful. They aren’t fixated on what the company can do for them. Instead, they want to know what the company’s mission and vision are and how the company wants to change an industry or a community. A few questions you can ask to gauge a candidate’s attitude about work are:

What gets you excited to come to work? Look for candidates who are excited by the prospect of building and learning, rather than showing up and being told what to do.

If you were faced with a challenging work task, how would you approach it? What you’re looking for is candidates who view problems as growth opportunities and have developed strategies for solving thorny issues. Instead of spinning their wheels, they conduct research, try different approaches, and ask for help by presenting possible courses of action rather than
expecting you to give them a step-by-step plan.

What superpower would you bring to this company? Understand what this candidate
does better than anyone else. You may be surprised at how well a candidate’s superpower complements your skill set. Perhaps you’re not a big fan of the operational side of running a business, but they’re incredible at documentation and process creation. While this may not be important while it’s just the two of you working two steps away from each other, it will help you grow and scale your business as you bring more people into the company.

What’s your preferred communication style? You’re going to be communicating with
this employee a lot, so it’s helpful to
know how they share information, whether they’re collaborative, and how they prefer
to receive feedback.

Your early employees are in the trenches with you, pivoting as the business needs and market conditions change. You want people who are scrappy, motivated, resourceful, and resilient. These questions can help you identify the people best suited to a startup role.

Harvest Builders Staff
Part 3: Building a recruitment toolkit
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