Startup Team Building: 20 Expert Tips on Attracting Talent

Building a great startup team is one of the biggest concerns new founders have. It’s difficult to do right and the startup team you hire can make or break your business. We’ve compiled these 20 tips to help you get it right, and make sure you hire the best people.

Choosing co-founders and board members for your startup team

The first members of your team will lay the foundations for everyone that comes after. These will almost certainly be your co-founders and C-level employees. Depending on your circumstances, this might be the point you select board members. These tips will tell you how to get the best co-founders and board members on to your startup team.


Don't hire your 'bestie'. This is your business, not an extension of your social life. Click To Tweet


“Don’t hire your ‘bestie’. This is your business, not an extension of your social life. Sure, your college roommate might know how to hustle, but it doesn’t automatically make him co-founder material. The unromantic truth is that 62% of startups fail due to co-founder conflicts. The most successful founders know their own strengths and more importantly their vulnerabilities. They have the confidence to proactively hire their ‘yang’; never underestimate the power of shared values and complementary strengths. Business is personal in the early days–relationships are lost, so don’t set yourself up for disaster by hiring the wrong person just because he or she is a close friend.”

– “5 Don’ts for Hiring Your First Startup Team” – Mark Newman, Founder at HireVue



At early-stage startups, members should support the management (without micro-managing it). Click To Tweet

“Boards of directors have many fiduciary and legal responsibilities. Still, boards often have additional roles, correlated with the venture’s stage.

At early-stage startups, members should support the management (without micro-managing it). For example, they may help guide product decisions or provide access to recruits, customers, and investors. Ideally, board members could also mentor founders. More established startups, however, may need a different type of assistance related to scaling sales, engineering, logistics, and other functions that no longer fit into a garage.”

“5 huge mistakes startups make when choosing board members” – Eran Laniado, Mentor and growth expert



The Hipster, Hacker and Hustler is a combination that is tough to beat. Click To Tweet

“The Hipster: Usually working their way into the mix as the designer or creative genius, they’ll make sure the final product is cooler than anything else out there. But, not only that, they’ll ensure the shade of blue used to accent the font really brings out the subtle homage to an artist from the ’70’s you’ve probably never heard of.

The Hacker: The one most likely to sit quietly through a board meeting until uttering the three sentences that answers the all important question of “how?” the new idea or initiative can be brought into reality. Resembling MacGyver with their ability to wield various lines of code or programing languages, you’ll get dizzy trying to keep up with their keystrokes.

The Hustler: They have the tendency to be the most misunderstood member of this trio. The Hipster is likely to accuse the Hustler of having sold out to the man because of their constant question of “It’s cool, but is it something our partners and clients want?” The Hacker is likely to do their best to avoid one on one conversations with the Hustler as a result of jock vs. geek episode back in high school.

But, when the Hipster brings the creative design and cool factor, the Hacker brings their utility belt of technology solutions, and the Hustler finds the right way to package it all up and take it to the masses in the form of sales and partnerships, it is a combination that is tough to beat.”

– “The Dream Startup Team: Hipster, Hacker, and Hustler” – Andy Ellwood, Cofounder and President at Basket


Cat wearing glasses.



If you are dilly-dallying, you will not get anywhere. Click To Tweet

“Strong Leadership: Whether you have one top decision-maker or are sharing that responsibility among your executive members, make sure you can make decisions. I know that may sound obvious but too many organizations halt and can’t move forward because they are stuck and cannot decide on strategies and the direction that need to be taken. If you are dilly-dallying, you will not get anywhere.”

– “Hiring the MVPS: Why your startup team is your most important asset” – Sharn Kandola, Marketing and PR consultant and Co-founder at feeDuck


Things to consider before you start hiring new team members

The decision to hire your first staff member beyond founders is a big, not to mention expensive one. You’ll have to think about what roles need filling, how you’ll fill your vacancies and even whether a whether a permanent employee is the best option right now. These tips break it down.



The extra oomph that a person gives in brainpower, creativity + legwork is worth it Click To Tweet

“Hire someone as soon as you know that you need them and can afford them, even if it’s tight at first. The extra oomph that another person gives in brainpower, creativity, and sheer legwork is totally worth it. Things that would otherwise take you weeks will be doable in days. Entire work streams will disappear from your to-do list.

In many cases, founders who are reluctant to hire even when it’s clear they’re overworked end up kicking themselves later when they realize how much they weren’t getting done while they delayed. We sacrificed our own pay to make room for Shane, and it was more than worth it.”

– “7 Keys to Hiring Your Start-up’s First Employee” – Nathaniel Koloc, Co-founder and CEO at ReWork



Joining an early stage start-up requires employees to place a lot of trust in the founders. Click To Tweet

“If it seems like tapping into your personal network is a recurring theme when starting a company, that’s because it is. Joining an early stage start-up requires employees to place a lot of trust in the founders, so having a mutual connection who can vouch for you is important to your potential hires.”

“Hiring for Your Start-up? How to Find the Right Candidates” – Alison Johnston Rue, CEO and cofounder of InstaEDU



You have to source talent, source the best people, dig deep and look everywhere. Click To Tweet

“Recruiting at startups is about putting yourself in a position to attract the best. That starts by building the foundation, the magnet you need to attract and excite people about your company and job opportunities. But once that’s done if you sit back and wait you’re dead. So you have to source talent, source the best people, dig deep and look everywhere. The more aggressive you are at sourcing the better chance you’ll find the diamond in the rough, the person that’s sitting in a dead-end job but isn’t quite sure what to do. You’re the one that’s going to find that person, connect with them and pull them out of there.”

– “10 Steps to Successfully Sourcing and Recruiting Startup Talent” – Ben Yoskovitz, Founding Partner at Highline BETA


Man stood on on the edge of the sea at sunset.



Maintain Equilibrium. It’s important to maintain balance in a company. Click To Tweet

“Maintain Equilibrium. It’s important to maintain balance in a company. Often, a startup’s first hires (besides the founders), tend to skew either to the technology side (we need 5 developers!), or the marketing side. Generally, if the founding team is more marketing-minded, they overhire engineers, and vice-versa. Instead, a company should be customer-centric. To achieve this “holy grail,” the company needs both technology and marketing expertise.”

– “Hiring the Ideal Startup Team” – Stephen Forte, Entrepreneur and VC at Fresco Capital



When it comes to creating an effective “help wanted” posting, less is not always more. Click To Tweet

“Have clarity in your job postings.

When it comes to creating an effective “help wanted” posting, less is not always more. Be expressive and articulate exactly what skill sets and qualifications you’re looking for, and be very clear about any extras you want sent your way, whether they be writing or graphic design samples, marketing plans or programming projects. If you want to get a sense of an applicant’s creative side in addition to an impression of how well they follow directions, consider dishing out a vague challenge, such as “Send us a love note,” or “impress us.”

An area where you don’t want to be vague is in sharing your communications preferences with applicants. If you want to communicate exclusively via email, say so – otherwise, be prepared to be bombarded by phone, at the office and even through social media. Job-seekers are a resourceful bunch, and they’ll often do whatever it takes to make themselves memorable to you – even if it means showing up in the middle of your investor meeting.”

– “Hiring & Firing: How to mould a team to move your startup forward” – PHX Startup Week



Convincing people to drink your Kool-Aid is 1 thing but acknowledge it's risky. Click To Tweet

“Benefits are important because they define your company culture, but they are also important because they show your employees that you value the hard work they have put into your company. Startups are risky for everyone involved. Convincing people to drink your particular batch of Kool-Aid is one thing, but you also have to acknowledge that they have something to lose.”

– “Startup hiring: How to build your ‘A-Team'” – Conner Forrest, News Editor at Tech Republic



Sometimes math isn't on your side, but a job needs to be done. Consider freelancers. Click To Tweet

“Not Ready to Hire? It Might be Time for a Freelancer

Sometimes math just isn’t on your side, but you still have a job that needs to be done.

That’s a good time to consider hiring freelancers.

In fact, you may want to consider freelancers even if you can afford a regular employee. Many freelancers will jump at the opportunity to join a fast growing startup in the early days, and you get the chance to see how they work, and how well you work together.

If you hire a freelancer and they nail major goals, then you may want to approach them for a full-time role.”

– “19 Recruiting Strategies to Make Hiring Your Top Growth Hack” – Adam Seabrook, Co-Founder of Betterteam



Hiring the best person for your startup team

When you’re deep into the recruiting process, it gets exhausting quickly, and it’s often easier just to hire someone to get it over and done with. These tips will help you make sure you select the right candidate for your startup team.



Everybody wants to win, so go after people who want to practice. Click To Tweet

“The first company I started had a former professional basketball player on the board, who told me something I’ve never forgotten: ‘Everybody wants to win, so go after people who want to practice.’

Hiring an employee that’s committed to working hard doesn’t just mean finding someone that will stay late, come early or send emails on the weekend just to impress you. It means finding someone that is able to focus on the building blocks, getting simple but often boring fundamentals of business right.”

“Hiring for Your Startup: 3 Tips to Find the Right People” – Mike Laven, CEO of Currency Cloud



Someone with a true command of a subject is able to explain it in simple terms Click To Tweet

“Test communication skills. If you are hiring an expert, such as a computer programmer or a lawyer, ask them to explain a particularly complex concept using everyday language that a non-expert can grasp without using jargon. Being able to talk to people such as customers and clients without appearing arrogant is vital. Someone with a true command of a subject is able to explain it in simple terms.”

– “10 Steps to Hiring Your Startup’s World-Beating A-Team” – Miriam Rivera, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Ulu Ventures


Blackboard with equations and diagrams. Communication of complex ideas is essential for a startup team member.



Startups need to move beyond a job description template. Click To Tweet

“Founders should throw away their job descriptions. When Portillo talks to hiring managers about the roles they want to fill, it’s rare they say a candidate “should have done 7 years of XYZ.” Startups need to move beyond a job description template and source potential hires with a more dynamic approach. By researching potential candidates, executives can gain a deeper sense of who an individual really is, what they care about, and see if that is aligned with the mission of their company.”

– “The Essentials Of Hiring An Exceptional Startup Team” – Dan Portillo, Talent Whisperer at Greylock



Every new addition to your team will fundamentally change your company's DNA Click To Tweet

“As your startup grows beyond the founding team, every new addition to your team will fundamentally change your company’s DNA. New hires impact everything: product development; company culture; team morale; work quantity and quality; team capabilities… The list goes on and on.

In a small team, and in the fast-paced, high-stakes startup environment, the impact of any mismatch in values, processes or culture will be magnified. Hiring a good-fit team member can increase your capacity and skill set, as well as improving team morale. However, if your new employee is a bad fit for your team’s culture, they will have a negative impact on the work environment, and can actually lead to a decrease in productivity levels, despite an increase in team numbers.”

– “The Ultimate Startup Hiring Guide” – Emily Smith, Growth Specialist at Cobloom



It’s not the best person that gets the job, but the person with the best interviewing skills. Click To Tweet

“Interviews can be very misleading.

Every applicant wants to present their best self during an interview, and it’s pretty obvious why: employers are more likely to pick the candidate who is most attractive, affable, articulate, and assertive. This, unfortunately, leads to a problem for the employer: it’s not the best person that gets the job, but the person with the best interviewing and presentation skills.

For example, many talented engineers are also introverts who tend to get nervous when interviewing for a job. Some of them do not give too much attention to the way in which they write their CV either (or update their social profiles, for that matter). For inexperienced recruiters, these talents might fall off the radar. In such situations, the gut feeling is more of a foe than a friend.”

– “Why Use Performance-Based Hiring When Building Your Startup Team” Irina Nica, Growth specialist at Hubgets 



The ideal person is probably T-shaped: means he or she is broad in many areas and deep in one. Click To Tweet

“There’s some debate over the best types of early-stage employees. Some believe you should hire generalists, while others argue for specialists. The ideal person is probably “T-shaped:” means he or she is broad in many different areas and deep in a particular one.

Because startups are constantly changing—because they’re iterating their product, expanding into new markets, pivoting, or all of the above—you don’t want to hire someone whose specialization might be obsolete to your business in a couple months. On the other hand, you don’t want someone who is so generalized that he or she doesn’t provide anything unique.

So what does a T-shaped person look like? Well, maybe she’s a full-stack engineer who’s super experienced in JavaScript. Or maybe he’s a marketing guru who really understands inbound marketing techniques—but is also able to SEO-optimize your site and leverage Google AdWords.”

– “How to Hire Your First Employees While Running Your Startup” – Aja Frost, Writer, tech/design geek, and podcast addict



Calculated recklessness can be a powerful asset with the ability to move mountains. Click To Tweet

“Recklessness” is a loaded word with undeservedly negative connotations, but calculated recklessness can be a powerful asset with the ability to move mountains.

 Playing it too safe and playing too much into the system can be toxic for a company of any size, let alone a startup where ‘learning’ is a critical metric. We strongly believe that learning comes from making mistakes – and if you’re afraid of making mistakes, then it is going to be impossible to discover that extra 1% insight that separates breakthrough companies from the rest.”
“The 6 Key Traits Every Startup Employee Should Possess” – Samar Birwadker, CEO and Co-Founder of 

Man parachuting in front of a snow-covered mountain.



Your founding team members need to be creators. Click To Tweet

“Conventional hiring wisdom says to look for people who’ve had past successes. However, it’s one thing to operate in your field successfully, and another to truly create–to be someone who can really build something new and innovative. Your founding team members need to be creators. After all, they’ll be tasked with designing your departments from scratch.

For example, let’s say you’ve spent the first nine months building your product and now need customers. Your first marketing hire will be your founding marketer–who will in turn make subsequent marketing hires. She’ll need a vastly different skill set from someone who’s only had experience running an already successful marketing program. Deciding what analytics program to use, which channels to pursue first, and how to estimate customer lifetime value–all those might be major leaps for even a talented operator to make.”

“How To Hire Your Startup’s Founding Team” – Fan Bi, CEO of Blank Label


What if it all goes wrong?



You need to have a team of A players who are passionate about making a difference. Click To Tweet

“At the end of the day, if someone isn’t working out—if their skills aren’t sufficient for the job or they’re just not doing the job as well as you need—let them go. Free them up to do something they are good at. Do it with compassion and try to help them to find their next position. But don’t surprise them. Give them feedback along the way through frequent job performance appraisals and immediate response anytime you notice something that isn’t quite up to the standard you’re looking for.

At the end of the day, you need to have a team of A players who are passionate about making a difference in the world, and you need to focus immediately—as soon as you can afford to do so—on building that team.”

– “How to Build Your Startup Team” – Ryan Allis, Chairman at Connect and Hive 




Becca is the Marketing Executive at Twine. She loves literature, music, film and make-up. She spends a lot of time complaining about the mismatched angles of her winged eyeliner and stalking drag queens on Instagram. Otherwise, she’s helping Joe by writing blog posts and keeping Twine’s social media running.