Building a startup team is a lot like perfecting a recipe. Once you establish the core ingredients, they need to perform the same, if not better, every time.
While a founder’s job assembling and managing their team is clearly more intense than perfecting a chocolate soufflé, altering company culture, even in the slightest fashion, can have a serious impact on an organization.
Due to the fear of a deflated soufflé, it’s often prescribed that young startups wait as long as possible to bring on new team members.
With this in mind, we asked our founders to share the hiring frameworks they’re using to grow their teams.
Here’s what they had to say.
Brittany Hodak, Co-founder of ZinePak
1) Each team member must be a cultural fit. You spend half or more of your waking hours with your coworkers, so nothing is worse than having a jerk around the office bringing down everyone’s moods.
2) Each person must embrace change and risk. At startups, there is always change. A job might look completely different in July than it did in February. Some people embrace this reality while others hate it. It’s important to be sure a startup candidate falls into the former category.
3) Each team member must be willing to OWN his or her role. As a founder, your biggest goal should be to build a company with people who are better at specific tasks than you are. Look for people who are the very best at what they do and are driven to improve their skills all the time.
It’s hard to test for these traits, quite frankly, and everyone makes hiring mistakes from time to time. If you realize you’ve hired someone who isn’t a fit, get rid of him or her quickly. No amount of time (or coaching, or incentives) can make someone less of a jerk, make him or her more comfortable with ambiguity, or help him or her become more driven. In my experience, these intrinsic qualities are either there or they aren’t. The key is making sure they ARE there before presenting an offer letter!
Vivek Sharma, Co-founder and CEO of Movable Ink
Intellectual curiosity, great communication skills, and the ability to Get Stuff Done.
I’ve found that our best employees, not only have intellectual horsepower, but have the curiosity to figure out how stuff works. A good way to tease this out is to have an interviewee teach you to do what they do. Honing one’s craft means thinking deeply about the process and knowing it well enough to teach someone else.
I want to make sure people aren’t just academic thinkers. One way to do this is to set up a simulation as a late stage of an interview where a sales person will sell us our product, an engineer will solve a programming challenge, and a client services person will run a mock consulting session. This shows their ability to think on their feet and mastery of the craft.
Great communication skills are another must. Whether you’re an engineer, in sales, or work in client services it’s important to listen carefully, organize your thinking, and communicate clearly. This could take written, conversational, or presentation form. Companies scale because they are able to coordinate what everyone is doing and great communication is at the foundation of this.
Lastly, I want to make sure that an interviewee can Get Stuff Done. The best way to discover this is by doing solid reference checks. I’ll devote a lot of time on thorough reference questions. Don’t accept a superficial answer without digging two levels deeper. Also, talking to a few different people with the same sets of questions can help verify the consistency of feedback. Do not skimp on the reference check! It’s one of the most important parts of the interviewing process.
Julie Lorch, Director of UX at DoSomething.Org
We ask ourselves three questions when we interview candidates:
1. Would we want to be in a bunker with you?
2. Can you hit a homerun in 90 days?
3. Are you going to be doing something amazing in four to six years?
If you want to get hired at DoSomething, you need a resounding yes to all three. We want people who are great to be around, can handle being thrown to the fire, and of course, are capable of doing absolutely remarkable things. Candidates meet as many people on the team as possible – a second round interview involves groups of staff members rotating in and out of a conference room every 15 minutes for three hours. It’s either terrifying or the most fun they’ve ever had in an office, and we can tell immediately.
— Mike Townsend, Co-Founder of HomeHero
We spent a lot of time thinking about team culture and what it means in hiring and below are the 8 values we all emphasize that we use to find people and keep them happy.
1. “Focus on long-term success.”
– You make decisions that result in the happiest long-term team, clients and heroes.
– You produce work and introduce new processes that can be easily interpreted, scaled and used by others in the future.
– You embrace your personal career goals and communicate them clearly.
2. “Fearlessly contribute new ideas.”
– You actively seek out idea inspiration from outside organizations and cultures.
– You think about how every process could be better, no matter how small.
– You capture and encourage feedback on every new idea.
3. “Have higher expectations for yourself than others do for you.”
– You are proud of your current level of productivity.
– Your work ethic and motivation is contagious and sets an example for others.
– You consistently fight for self-improvement.
4. “Focus on building real value over perceived value.”
– You remain modest and never seek accolades.
– You speak up and offer help to others when your workload is low.
– You give others your best ideas without claiming credit.
– You think of everything as a theory and that it may be wrong.
5. “Challenge yourself to do the hard thing.”
– You regularly and deliberately do things that make you feel uncomfortable.
– You are quick to take on tasks and projects that no one else wants to do.
6. “Treat every problem as an opportunity.”
– You look for solutions not problems.
– You always remain in control of your emotions.
– You keep faith that things will always get better.
7. “Promote and protect our brand.”
– You keep public messaging consistent and grammatically correct.
– You correct people when you see a misuse of the HomeHero name, logo or mission.
– You take pride in the quality of our entire product and service.
– You never settle for a “good enough” user experience.
8. “Default to transparency.”
– You keep communication transparent by default.
– You clearly communicate absences, tardiness and missed deadlines.
– You capture all action items and don’t let anything fall through the cracks.
– You uphold honesty and never lose sight of your values.
Aaron Firestein, Co-founder and Chief Artist at Bucketfeet
Willingness to do anything, no matter how small it might seem. Honesty, being willing to admit they don’t necessarily know something. A hunger for learning.
Missed the first two posts in the series? Check out the founders’ tips for goal setting and productivity.