What startups look for when hiring

When we have started our project, guess where we had to start? From finding the right team. Yeah, it took us a lot of trial and error, but after a while, we have learned what has to be done to hire the right people. 

Recruitment became one of the most important and interesting things for us: after all, people you hire are like the glue for your startup, without them everything falls apart. And it is such a great feeling to be able to spark the interest in someones’ mind joining your growing team and develop a startup together.

And it is never easy. There are scary statistics saying that 64% of employees have one foot out the door for many issues and some may include:


So you must get it right. 

But it is never that easy. So let’s look what startups look for in a future coworker.

The beginning of the hiring process

The tough part is the beginning. Like everywhere else. 

You are sitting on the other side of the table, all scared and excited, with a billion of questions shooting through your mind:

  • Is this person going to bring the value that is needed?
  • What if this person is wrong and it screws up our startup culture?
  • What if I choose not to hire this person and miss out on someone who could’ve been the game-changer?

The people you hire can help you make it or break it. As a small startup, you have fewer resources, stability and time, so every hire is crucial for you. You don’t have the luxury to mess up. No pressure.

The standards are higher and the criteria are different than the hiring process at a corporation. 

OK, enough of scaring you. 

Let’s dive into what we look for in an early startup employee; if you don’t own a startup and want to try to work for one, we hope it is going to be a helpful guide for what to expect and position yourself too.

So let’s dive into the 6 things startups look for in an employee:

1. Passion for the problem

Does he/she individually care about the issue we’re solving?

If the candidate wants to get hired solely for the money (and they aren’t in pure sales), then they’ve wandered into the wrong company. We had so many people who would straight away ask about financial compensation. And it would always trigger the red light for us. We never want our employee’s sole motivation would be cash and to be fair, that person doesn’t want to work ar a startup. You are not going to get the easy money here, you have to be passionate about the whole process. 

The people who care about the job are in it for two things: 

1) helping to solve the problem;

2) getting hands-on startup experience and in general, wanting to learn a lot; 

Notice that we used the word problem, not the solution. There is a chance that your startup company will pivot while facing tons of issues. Despite everything, your coworkers should stay passionate about the problem you are solving. 

What is the key takeaway? Startups look for mission-driven people.

I’ve also found that the best early teammates are genuinely interested in the day-to-day startup experience–i.e. the school of hard knocks–to prepare them for either a career working in startups or perhaps starting something of their own one day.

2. Fit Your Startup Culture

Would you survive this person on the daily basis without going completely insane?

As Neil Patel said:

“Skills can be taught, lessons can be learned, but personality is (more or less) set in stone.”

We have mentioned this before in our previous blog why working environment matters but it is worth mentioning again. When your team is so small, you can easily feel the slightest of a tension. It is like sharing a flat, so each person you bring to your startup, re-shapes your culture. Startups look for humble people, who are positive and are willing to wear all the hats needed.

If you are happy with the culture that you have created so far and you want to maintain (or even strengthen) it, a good idea would be to involve any early team members in the hiring process. Ask them to conduct separate interviews with the candidates and ask them if this could be a person they would feel comfortable and passionate working with every day. 

As you might know, the people that you run a startup with, are the ones that you spend the most time with. More time than with your friends, partner or family… So you should better get it right.

3. Ability to get things done and solve problems

Can this person individually take initiative and tackle problems creatively and relentlessly?

Let’s be realistic, your startup is only going to look pretty on the paper, not behind the scenes. 

It’s going to look like a leaking boat, with all hands on deck, constantly scooping out water with buckets. And even the damn buckets leak.

So startups look for those who would not only be fine with this situation, but also excited about it. Seeing as a room for personal and professional improvement. They see a complete chaos and the first thought that pops to head is, “what can I do to help?” They stay self-assured and assertive.

As Tony Robbins simply puts it,

“The greatest resource is resourcefulness.” 

The most successful employees don’t assume that problem can be solved just by throwing cash or people at it; they’re continually thinking about creative and resourceful solutions.

4. Coachable person

Can this person receive feedback and implement it correctly?

How to check that during the hiring process? It is simple. Ask the candidate to do a task, give feedback and then ask them to do it again. If you are hiring a designer, give them vague instructions on the design that they should create it and after they finish the task, give them feedback and see how the results will change. Or if you are looking for a sales person, ask them to do a mock call. Most of the time, the call will be a complete train wreck as it will be done on the spot and unecpectedely and that is perfectly fine. Then you should give the candidate constructive feedback and ask to immediately do the call again. Are they responsive to the feedback? Can they implement the learnings on the spot?

You might assume, that many people will. Think again. Sometimes they can’t improve because they’re too set in their ways, or because they’re too confident with their skillset. Either way, it’s a no go. That person is not willing to accept and consolidate feedback which means that they are not likely improve and develop. As it is such a rear beast, that is why the coachable person is what startups look for.

5. Skillset

Does this person have the skills needed to immediately contribute to the startup?

No matter big or small, all businesses look for the right skillset. Startups need to be pickier than anyone else because of their limited resources.

All startups look for two kinds of people (especially at the early stages): 

1) direct revenue-generators, such as salespeople or marketing experts who could generate a lot of leads and help to build your startup from the ground up;

2) and direct product-creators, such as designers, developers, engineers who can turn the idea into a palpable product;

That’s it. 

Yeah, in your business plan you have a whole list of people that currently are not needed. Like product managers, business analysts, partnership managers, accountants, or recruiters. We are not saying that they would not be helpful (they sure would be), you just can’t “afford” to hire them just yet.

Later on (after a Series A or with more profitability), a startup will have the luxury to hire some of these other team members and give everyone some extra breathing room. But for now, everyone needs to do the things that would kickstart your startup: make money or make a product.

6. Leadership

Can I see this person being able to manage a team in the future?

Once again, your startup can’t afford executives right now, so startups look for someone who could transform into your company’s executives and directors as your startup grows.

It is all about the potential: 

1) The potential to be an efficient leader, 

2) The position to constantly provide value to your business, and 

3) The ability and patentience to teach and mentor.

FiscalNote’s CEO Tim Hwang put it best:

“We’re looking for people who are givers, not takers.”

Finally, the best teammates are proactive: they think of the ideas and do them. You want people who are executing ideas and not running to you back and forth to ask for the green light.

Things Startups Don’t Care For:

1. Experience

This is the easy one. With limited resources, you simply can’t hire a senior executive. But sometimes it is better. As instead you can look for people who are flexible, full of potential and willing to learn. And not someone who comes with the baggage and assumes that they know how the things should go. This know-how sometimes might end up being something that would not only poison the whole startup culture, but also stop it from improving.

2. Grades

We can explain this with a simple quote from Chris Sacca:

I used to believe that grades mattered. When I was a sophomore at Georgetown, I had the chance to hear the legendary investor Chris Sacca (an alum) speak on campus: “since I’ve graduated, I’ve been asked for my shoe size more often than I have for my GPA.”

That how we have felt after school too. So the question that arises is why the hell we were working so hard in the school for?

The startup world is more meritocratic than most other companies.

Most of the startups care very little about your grades and way more about what you have accomplished or how well you can adapt, learn and if you can use your own brain and be proactive.

Startups don’t care about all the fancy titles you possibly had with your college fraternity/sorority. They care about what you have been doing while you were studying.

Startups do not care about what certifications you’ve done. They focus on what projects you have done and your thought process behind them.

Startups are not interested in your family connections. They are curious about the lessons you’ve learned from your former hindrances.

That’s the beauty of startups. We hope that you are excited about them too. Want to feel the beauty of a startup? Download Kloogo now!  

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