How To Build a Team From Scratch

photo of Yoav Achiam

Yoav Achiam

2022-07-24

4 min read

As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people.” Forming the initial team is critical for a startup to be successful. If you are reading this you probably had an idea or have one and can’t exactly figure out how to get it started. One thing you keep telling yourself is “if I just had a [ENTER POSITION NAME] on my team, where do I find someone?” When you finally find “the one”, you realize you don’t have the funding to pay. So how can you build your initial team to complement your skillset and bring the startup to its full potential? Keep reading to find out.

 

All the tips I share here are based on my own experience from founding 2 startups, and doing it with very little capital. These are the techniques I found most successful for building an initial team. 

 

It is well known that it is recommended to have a co-founder. It is important to find the right one. I have heard of co-founders and startups being compared to a marriage. In all honesty, it is probably a bit more intense than that. I am not going to discuss the importance of finding the right co-founder nor what skills you should get for your team as every startup has different needs. What you will find in this post are methods and tips on how you can find those people. 

 

Some of the main Issues I have encountered with regards to finding a team are:

  • Not having money to offer yet
  • Not wanting to create a job post (‘I don’t have money, how can I post this as a job’)
  • Finding/recognizing a person with the right skillset
  • The ability to get on with that person on the personal level.
  • Assuming people won’t be as dedicated as you. There is some truth in that, and you need to find those who will be dedicated. 

 

There is no simple and quick way to fix these issues. How to resolve them is a whole blog on its own. A few ideas are offering some percent of the company, offering a “sexy” title (VP/Head of), agreeing that first profits will be split between them and the company. However, don’t be tempted to give out too much just because you are starting out. Believe in yourself and remember that your idea is going to change the world, you are giving them a chance to be part of it!

 

There are several ways you can try to find a co-founder/team member. There is not one way that fits all, start with the ones suggested below and see which work best for you.

 

1.The 2 F’s - family & friends: I find this way to yield the highest success for match rate. On the other hand, it is difficult to get these connections. It is best  to start by sharing your story and your mission . A founder’s drive is usually infectious. Share what skill sets you are after and ASK if they know someone who might fit. You will be surprised as to how many people don’t even think to suggest/link you to someone they know.

  • Talk with your family and find out, maybe they know someone and can make the intro. This makes it “easier” on both sides - the person you approach has more trust and you have someone to vouch for him/her (at least on a  personal  level  and hopefully on the technical level too). 
  • Your friends are another great source. You know what skillsets your friends have, you can judge who you would get along with and then handpick who you should approach. Keep in mind that startups can get stressful so make sure it is someone you will get along with, even if you have disagreements.

 

2.Linkedin - almost  every recruiter uses this, so why don’t you? It relates to the “friends” point from above. This is a way to find friends of friends who could fit into your team. It is quite time consuming, but critical to a successful startup. Linkedin has great filtering capabilities. To do this on Linkedin, navigate to your connections, select the advanced filters and start searching. Some helpful tips here are to expand your search to at least 1st & 2nd degree connections and filter to a specific title. There are other parameters you can use, but I found these to be most critical.

 

Selecting 1st and 2nd degree connections in the filter.

 

linkedin filter

 

Using the title to filter the position/skills you are searching for.

 

linkedin filter

 

3.University hiring sites - Students are always looking to get hands-on experience. Universities are interested in finding internships and jobs for their students and graduates. These students might not have all the skills you need and it might be noticeable that they lack the experience, but they will get you the minimal viable product (MVP)that  you crave. It is important, if going with less experienced team members such as students, to have at least someone that can guide them. It can be another team member/C-level or it can be an advisor. As a founder you must become a master of all trades. It is possible you are going to be doing some marketing (even though you have never before), data analysis, and discussing why a test is or is not significant and how to act upon those findings. When hiring students to your team you are likely to find yourself mentoring them as well.

 

Hiring is never an easy process, and there definitely isn’t a “right way” to do it. However, for every person I hire to join my team I focus on 2 main aspects.

 

  • Behavioral fit - this is a very personal aspect that you and only YOU (and your co-founder if you have one) can decide on. It goes along with your vision of the work culture and how people fit in it. Think beforehand what is most important to you. I sit down, make a list and then start prioritizing till I have my top 3-5 most important points. I then begin with a short chat to get a feel for the person (even a contact I so kindly was linked to by a friend). It is also important to judge if this person has enough time and headspace to work on a startup. The initial meeting can be over the phone/zoom but from my experience there is no replacement for meeting and chatting over coffee.

 

  • Technical fit - It is critical for you to be able to assess your team’s quality and capabilities. Some of you might say “but I don’t know how to assess a developer”, and you are probably right. To a degree…. Remember you can always get help. Find a friend who might not be interested in joining you on this startup journey, but have the technical ability to interview someone and assess their level. Make sure this friend is at a high level of expertise (from what you have heard, years of experience etc). Ask him to write up a home assignment. Share it with the interviewee, then have a call (the 3 of you) to review it. Even if you don’t know much about the subject, you will get a sense of the interviewee’s body language, how he responds to questions and very quickly be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Don’t jump and take the first 1-2 interviewees you see. They will be used to calibrate you and your friend. It might seem harsh, but this is what  is needed for you to be able to honestly judge someone. 

 

Remember Rome was not built in a day. This takes time so be patient. You have done your market research and validated your idea. Don’t give up just because you are missing some knowledge/team members.

Feel free to contact me on twitter @yoavac 

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Yoav is an electrical engineer who realized that creating products that impact millions of people is what fascinates him. He has been running startups and working as a product manager for the last 7 years, most recently as a growth product manager at Similarweb. He is a dad of 2 boys who show him the simplicity and joys of life.

 

 

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