You have a small team. Maybe it’s just you or you and a co-founder. You know that every single hire at this point can make or break your startup. Everybody needs to pull their own weight and then some.
If your company has fewer than 10 employees, this article is for you.
Who Should I Hire?
First off, congratulations! You’re not founding anymore, you’re hiring! This means you’ve created enough positive traction and avoided enough mistakes to get your venture off the ground.
At this stage, you need people in pretty much all of the roles so how do you prioritize your hires?
This is tricky and it is a major strategic decision.
Anatomic’s founders suggest identifying what you spend most of your time wishing you had help with.
“You don’t need to overthink things. You know your business and what it needs. Importantly, you know by now what you don’t want to do anymore. This can be anything, but menial tasks will definitely begin to grate on your nerves as any founder running an early-stage company will tell you. When all your early-stage fires have been put out for good, it’s not you anymore who needs to be manually turning the productivity crank. You’re still at the ground floor and will know the goings-on by proximity, but it doesn’t have to be you anymore getting your hands dirty.”
Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself to guide you:
- What is the next milestone I am trying to reach?
This could be proof of concept work, prototype development, seed round funding, preliminary data, initial discussions with the FDA or other regulatory body, etc.
- What expertise gaps do we have in reaching this milestone?
Make a list. It might be a long one but that’s ok. Be realistic and frank with yourself about what you and the rest of your team are competent in and expertise gaps you have. For example, you might still remember how to pipet media, but that doesn’t mean you should be the one doing all the cell culture work in the lab. Or you have previous experience in sales and marketing but that doesn’t mean that you should lead R&D and product development.
- Which expertise gaps should I fill by outsourcing vs. hiring?
This is a juicy decision. Take your time here. Theoretically, you could outsource everything. Or hire people for every role if you had all the funding needed. Neither extreme is a good idea for your startup.
So let’s explore this last question a little further.
As a startup with fewer than 10 employees, you’re used to outsourcing many functions and you rely on partners for getting stuff done. But what are the critical one or two roles that will help you the most in reaching your next milestone? Perhaps you need a Chief Operating Officer or an R&D leader who is going to map out your technology and product roadmap and oversee all the partners and outside resources. Oftentimes, founders fill in this role way too long and spend too much time handling R&D minutiae instead of focusing on fundraising and running the business.
Anatomic’s founders share:
“There comes a point where the “make-vs-buy” calculus reaches an inflection point. Contract research costs, for example, add up quickly. If you find yourself constantly agonizing over commissioning yet another new study and foresee this need well into the future, maybe it’s time to bring the expertise in-house.”
Another way to tackle this question is by looking at your biases and weaknesses. You’re probably thinking, great, sure Sandy, I know all my blind spots. If you need help figuring these out, ask a friend. Ask family members.
For example, are you a fast, gut feeling guided decision maker? Make sure you hire somebody who’s the opposite: makes decisions slowly and thoughtfully after looking at all the data. You’ll probably drive each other crazy in the process but balancing out the two styles, you’re almost guaranteed to make better decisions as a team.
And this reminds me of another bias we have: we tend to hire people who are like us. Who think like us and act like us. It makes us comfortable. But it comes at a great business cost. So resist those urges and look for people who complement you.
Be careful not to confuse poor outsourcing partners with needing to hire internally. If you are working with an outsourcing partner who’s not a fit, make a change!
Your next hire should be strategic: fill a key role with somebody who brings complementary skills. You’re building your core dream team that’s going to define your company culture.
What’s My Company Culture?
Quick intermission here to talk about a biggie. Your company culture. As a startup, you might have tackled vision and mission statements and company values, or not. Of course it helps if you have but even if you haven’t, make sure you define your company culture before you consider a new hire. Think on your own and discuss it with the rest of your team.
Anatomic’s founders recommend:
“It won’t be immediately obvious to either yourselves internally or those joining from the outside what makes your company tick on the day-to-day. It’s important at this point to consider what you’re all about. It’s important to ask why things work well the way they do. Put another way, will bringing in someone new enhance productivity or disrupt the current structure? For your own sake and the sake of the future hire, it’s important to consider if things will mesh well. You don’t want to be walking on eggshells around your employees or feeling guilty for expecting overtime from time to time, for example. You need to understand what you expect from yourselves, if these expectations are outside the norm, and if you’re holding new hires to these same expectations.”
What do you all value? How do you work? What do you expect from each other? What are your non-negotiables? What do you want to make absolutely sure every new hire is going to bring?
Let’s look at an example. Most startups want employees to be hard-working. The problem is that hard work is kind of open to interpretation. Be clear about what that looks like at your company. Do you expect people to respond to emails within 5 minutes? Put in 14-hour work days? Or deliver what they said they would within the timeframe you all agreed upon and you don’t care when or how they get it done?
Here’s another example. Are you a startup who’s head down all the time making things happen or do you also expect employees to kick back together at the end of every day with some drinks, go to happy hour on Fridays, and get together for some fun every weekend?
Capture what it’s like working at your company and decide on the company culture elements you want to keep as your team grows. Remember to be open, inclusive, and not an elitist.
How Do I Reach The Right Candidates?
You don’t have time to sift through hundreds and hundreds of resumes.
Write up a job requisition document (job req) that is crystal clear. Use simple, descriptive words without a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Keep the job req short. The longer it gets, the more confused people will be. And be super clear about the must-haves. If you’re not, you will get so many resumes from people with completely irrelevant backgrounds that you won’t know what to do with them. Don’t waste your time -and their time.
Work through your network but not just through your network. Remember the point about hiring people similar to us? Expand your search to find talent from other corners of the universe, and I don’t just mean geographically.
I am not going to cover all the different ways you can reach candidates. You are most likely familiar with Indeed, LinkedIn Jobs, and hiring recruitment firms. Focus on writing up a strong job req and get it reviewed by industry experts and recruiters to gather feedback.
Your job req should tell the complete story of who you are, what you’re trying to do, who you’re looking for, and what you expect them to do. In as few words as possible.
How Do I Pick The Right Hire?
Now you finally have a few promising candidates to pick from, and as is usually the case, each one brings something different and nobody seems like the perfect fit. Now what?
Well, you can either reject all of them and keep looking or select one from the pack.
How to pick?
Tip #1: Have somebody else “blind” the resumes for you, or for whoever the hiring manager is.
Truth is, we all have biases. Some biases we are aware of, most of our biases we’re not. Basically ask a colleague to strip out, block, or cover all identifiable characteristics from the resumes that are not related to the job and experiences. Gender, race, address, languages, etc. There are many online resources on how to do this and while it can be time-consuming, it is well worth the effort. Of course, you don’t need to have all resumes blinded, just the ones that meet the qualifications.
Tip #2: Before you look at anything else on the resume, review it against your checklist of must-have qualifications. Is it check, check, check? Don’t be swayed by a resume that you like that does not check all the must-have boxes. You put those criteria in place for a reason, right? This is not the time to change your mind. It will not be fair to you, your business, or all the candidates who looked at your job req.
Tip #3: Don’t rush. Yes, you want to respond fast because talent gets hired fast. And no, you don’t want to send an offer letter before you’ve really had a chance to assess the candidate. Lay out your hiring process ahead of time. Who reviews candidates, who has calls with them, who is going to have in person interviews, will the candidate have an onsite visit, will the candidate give a presentation, etc.? Keep your candidates informed about where they are in the process and what the next step is, including timelines. If you don’t, you run a high risk of losing a great candidate.
Growing your startup is an exciting time. Strategic hiring following the steps above can help reduce the stressful part of the process and improve your odds of hiring the right candidate.
How to Contact Anatomic: You can learn more about Anatomic at https://www.anatomic.tech and reach Patrick and Vince at info(at)anatomic.tech.