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Building a Startup Team

Posted by KristiMKE on 1/2/14 5:00 AM

As any entrepreneur will tell you, a startup is only as strong as the team that surrounds it. You can have the best idea ever imagined, but it’s worthless without proper development and execution. Building and maintaining an effective team is hardly an easy task. Most young companies don’t have time or the resources to outsource this process, and often are rushed into making quick hires as business quickly accelerates. Don’t make the mistake of settling for a quick fill, as it will cost you much more in the long-run training, dismissing and recruiting for the position again.

It takes a special kind of spirit to work in a startup, and unfortunately it’s not something you’re taught in the traditional corporate or academic systems. It’s crucial to identify what you’re looking for in a team member, and also what you expect of them in an unpredictable, insane scenario (just a hunch, it will happen time to time..). From my experience, here are the things I look for outside of the resume:

Passion in the idea:

If you’ve made the brave decision to pursue your dream through a startup, chances are that you live and breathe the idea, as you should! Sure, your friends and family might get tired of hearing about it all the time, but your team most certainly shouldn’t! You need to find a team full of individuals who are just as passionate and excited about your product as you are. If they truly believe in the idea and merit behind it, then they’re all the more likely to produce valuable work that will strengthen it’s chances of success.

Passion will also increase the chances of further innovation of your brand. People who love their work are able to carry it with them outside of the office, and see the benefits it can bring outside of its box. Look for the natural creative thinkers you can inspire and encourage open dialogue to discover new applications and opportunities out there.

Putting in the hours:

There are never enough hours in the day to get the work of a startup done, and it’s imperative to foster a crew that doesn’t need to operate on a 9-5 schedule. If business is going well, there will always be unexpected glitches and short deadlines that you’re racing to finish before that early-morning meeting. You certainly don’t want to solve all of these issues on your own, and need to have a team you can depend on to put in the hours when necessary. Be upfront when recruiting so it’s not a surprise when you need to ask them to work throughout the night or come in on a weekend. Just make sure that you’re able to be flexible with your employees, as they are with you. When you’re all working around the clock, it’s fair to give an afternoon off after crunching on a week-long deadline or a late morning start following an all-night push. It builds a stronger team when people feel appreciated and respected for their extra efforts.

Diverse Skillsets:

During the early stages of a startup it’s important to operate on a lean and efficient budget. While you might have work enough for twenty people, each with their own project, you can only afford a handful of positions to get it all done. Look for people who have a diverse background, and are comfortable operating in several different lanes at a time. They don’t have to be experts in all of the sub-fields, as long as they’re versed on the subject and open and willing to develop upon their skills.

Once you’ve found your savvy chameleon you trust for the job, you can consider and discuss investing in additional training or courses to expand their abilities in the secondary areas. Your small team now will probably be leading teams of their own once the company grows, and it’s beneficial for management to have a thorough understanding of the roles and responsibilities they direct. 


It’s never enough just to get the job done, you need to always be looking, and hopefully moving, forward. This applies to any department, project or individual. I try to look for someone who anticipates both problems and opportunities, and meets them head on before having to react at the last minute. Working in a fast-paced environment, you need to be able to solve issues quickly on your own and not eat up co-workers time with something that could easily be answered by google. 

Also, there is nothing worse than excuses! And you definitely don’t want to hire someone who will give you them every day. These people also tend to spend more time complaining about the work than actually doing it, which not only wastes that person’s time, but also the people who surround them and have to listen to their problems.


There is no guarantee in employment with a startup, which makes it difficult to attract top talent. Most people are looking for a steady job that they can rely on for salaries, healthcare and retirement. These are all things we aspire to provide one day as our companies grow, but certainly cannot always be offered right out of the gate. Instead, you’re looking for those high-risk individuals who are willing to accept a position most likely under their pay grade, in exchange for a small percentage of equity. If they’re already passionate about the idea, the equity is only further incentivization to work harder towards your dream, and hopefully pays off big for everyone involved.