Building a Startup Team From The Ground Up

Building a product takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. Most startups need to be efficient with budgets and take advantage of what they have. Every decision founders make has a direct impact on the company’s ability to make it to the next month, and most importantly, the ultimate success of the product.

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When possible, the best way to do this is to add team members on an ‘as needed’ basis. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is hiring individuals with similar skillsets just because they’re in your inner circle.

To optimize your tech startup team, follow this guide to start hiring off on the right foot.

The Bare Bones Essentials

Operations and Sales
This tends to be a co-founder role, but it doesn’t have to be. This person leads all these operations and sales. They keep the team running and dive deep to figure out who customers are and how to best reach them. They’re out pitching, networking, and representing the startup.

This hire needs to live and breathe passion for the business. They need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and be willing to go all in. If you’re searching for this person, the best places to look are within the startup community in your city. Go to events, visit forums, or search through your network to find them.

As your team grows, this role should be split between two employees: one to focus into the business from an operations perspective, and one to focus on the business from a growth perspective.

Technology Lead
This role is often filled by your other co-founder. If you’re working in the technology space without a technology lead, you’re going to need to find one quickly.

This individual focuses on where the product needs to end up and how to get it there. They’re responsible for product roadmaps, growing a capable team to support the product, and creating the product itself. The more development and tech skills this person has, the better. You want a big picture thinker with granular level skills.

The Gray Area

Design & UX
It’s safe to say the world of ugly technology is far behind us. In 2017, products need to be both functional and sexy. A designer is indispensable for finding what makes products succeed from a human psychological aspect and ensuring products are as user-friendly as possible.

This role can be mistaken for a “fun” or “fancy” one, but founders need to recognize its crucial role in product development and avoiding mistakes and costly errors from the get-go. You may be able to stumble through the first bit of development without a designer, but the sooner you can get them on your team, the better.

If possible, find someone with experience in your niche. If not, narrow in on the specific type of design and UX elements you’ll need and find someone who has similar experience.

Full-Stack Developer
If you’re building anything technology related, you want a person who can get the most jobs done. It can sound counter-intuitive since the HR rule of thumb is to hire specific talent for specific roles, but when it comes to a bare bones, bootstrapped team you want a full-stack developer over front-end or back-end.

If you’re working on mobile, dig until you find someone who can do both Android and iOS. By taking the time to find these well-rounded developers, you’ll add valuable assets to your team that save a full additional salary and hours of late-night headaches.

Keep in mind this role falls after design & UX. Often you can find a technology co-founder (or be one yourself) that knows enough about code to get by. By combining your tech lead’s skills with a designer, you can get pretty far without hiring an additional developer.

The Forward Thinkers

Marketing Strategist
Marketing is always a difficult role, because a product can be built without a single marketer laying hands on it. The problem here is that most products won’t “sell themselves”, no matter how great they may be.

Consider your product’s audience, buyer’s journey, and customer acquisition costs before making a marketing hire. It’s easy to throw it out the window, but having a single person to handle all public relations, advertising, and content might be worth the costs of a salary.

Product Manager(s)
Product managers are an important role: They free up the CTO (or Technology Lead) to focus on the big picture while they handle the roadmap and tactical side of individual product lines. Product managers are a great way to stay organized, effective, and grow your products to the highest potential.

Creating a single product? You can probably afford to skip this one. Product managers operate like mini CTOs for specific product lines, so a one-product organization can stick to their technology lead, designer, and developers before looking twice at product management roles.

Customer Service
Depending on your target market and buyers, you may never need a customer service representative. For more interactive customers, the operation lead will often stick with the customer throughout their entire journey to help them with any questions they may have.

If your product has a quicker buying cycle, a customer service representative will help take the day-to-day emails and inquiries off your hands. This role is easier to fill and requires less specialization. It’s a quick person to train, but it helps your company focus on acquiring the next customer and retaining current ones.

Human Relations
The big scary letters: HR. The components of human relations can be handled by an internal operations manager, but the line is thin and easy to cross. One day these tasks will seem manageable, but the next you’ll be in over your head.

Always reevaluate the company growth and projections for the coming months. A strong HR candidate in the startup space can be a rare find, so you want to get the advantage of looking early before you need one. Try connecting with local HR managers in your city who are active in the startup community. They’re interested in engaging with startups already, and you may just find one ready to make the leap.

Building a Team for Success

Whether you hire for all of these roles or only just a few, you need to find the people who are going to click with your team. You can argue that what’s on paper matters most for a new hire, but we all know it comes down to more than that.

Working at a startup is different from a regular corporate job. Regardless of the title, look for someone who’s ready for challenges, willing to cooperate with all team members, and will do what it takes to get the job done.