How do Startups Hire the Right People?

If a startup were a recipe, it would include a mixture of a good idea, timing, luck, opportunity and, last but not least, the right people.

As much as everything else might be in place, having the wrong people is lethal for a startup. But how do startups find and hire the right people? Aside from raising money, hiring is probably the biggest challenge and obstacle facing Canadian startups.

In many cases, startups are created by people who know each other from school or who have worked together. They then bring on friends or people they know from work, which are probably solid hires given these people have the same skill-sets as the founders.

It’s when a startup looks to hire people with different skill-sets that the HR process can go awry. In most cases, the founders or management don’t have the insight or experience to make the right decision. It is not that they hire bad people; they just hire the wrong people for ┬ájobs that require the right person.

This is particularly challenging when a startup hires marketing, communications or sales people because these skill-sets are alien to a start-up’s core strength and DNA. Non-developers talk, walk and work differently. If HR is going to go off the rails, this is when it can really happen.

So how can start-up make better hiring decisions?

The key is management/founder recognizing they don’t have the knowledge or experience to do a good job or make the right decisions. This means turning to advisors, investors, the community or HR people for help – not only help in identifying candidates but doing due diligence on potential employees.

As well, startups shouldn’t be afraid about having strenuous hiring practices as opposed to making quick, one-interview decisions. Far too often, a hiring decision is made on a favourable first impression, particularly people who are good communicators.

Startups should also consider hiring people on a contract or project basis so that if a hiring mistake is made, there is less pain if a change is needed. It also lets a startup and a potential employee “date” before they decide to get “married”.

In the scheme of things, hiring is one of the most important things a start-up does but it’s also the most challenging and fraught with a lot of risk.

For more thoughts on startups and hiring, a good read is Forbes’ Tomio Geron, who interviewed Marc Andreessen about his experiences with startups.

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