April 18, 2019 Last updated August 31st, 2022 1,679 Reads share

Hiring the Right Startup Team

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As your startup company grows, so does your need to invest in hiring the right startup team. In this article, we’ll discuss how small startup companies, specifically in eCommerce, can have the best chances of survival by hiring the right people for the right roles – the first time around.

Is your e-commerce company a startup or a small business?

A startup (or start-up) is a new entrepreneurial venture that intends to solve a problem in the marketplace by developing a viable business model at scale. One of the key differentiators between startups and small businesses is that startups are designed for high growth potential and scalability. Thus, they require the ability to serve a large market.

For example, a new hair salon would not be considered a startup because it would be limited to serving a local population. However, a hair salon might become a startup if it were creating a scalable solution such as an innovative new product (such as improved hair styling tools) or a digital service (such as an online course for people who want to open a new hair salon).

As you might have suspected after watching an episode of Shark Tank, the majority of startups fail. This may be attributed to a number of factors including failure to hire the right people for the right roles, running out of funding, or simply because their solution wasn’t the right fit for the market.

Which roles should your e-commerce startup hire first?

Startups generally begin with a team of one person or a small group of co-founders, splitting responsibility for all necessary tasks. But in the startup environment business moves quickly, so hiring should be thought as soon as you’ve proven your business model.

To determine which roles your startup should fill first (or next), review all of the resources you currently have in place.

Some important questions to ask include:

  • What is the long-term goal of your startup?
  • What are the shorter-term milestones you need to hit in order to achieve that goal?
  • What skill sets or resources do you need in order to reach your goal and milestones?
  • Which roles are already filling those needs?
  • What additional roles do you need to fill in order to reach your goal?
  • Which of those roles can be easily outsourced?
  • What are the specialties and skills of each current team member?
  • Are all of your team members’ skills being properly leveraged?
  • Where do your team members have gaps in their skills and knowledge?

Example #1:

If Startup A is creating a free app with a goal of reaching 1,000,000 new consistent users, they will need a team that can fill two core needs:

  1. Getting a large audience of potential users to download, understand, and use the app.
  2. Serving the users with a reliable and valuable in-app experience.

If both co-founders of Startup A are specialized in various aspects of technology and user experience design, they may need to hire team members for the roles of marketing their app, providing customer service, and managing the finances.

Example #2:

If Startup B is launching a new subscription box service with a goal of generating 1,000,000 paid subscribers, they will need a team that can fill these four core needs:

  1. Sourcing or manufacturing the products for the subscription box.
  2. Getting a large number of paying customers to purchase the subscription box.
  3. Shipping a high volume of orders quickly and efficiently.
  4. Providing a stellar customer service experience to retain subscribers.

If the solo founder of Startup B is skilled in branding and marketing, she may need to invest in team members who can manage the roles of product management, website development, customer service, finance, and fulfillment. Alternatively, the role of fulfillment may be outsourced to a third-party logistics company (3PL).

Know Your Goal

When you start with your goal in mind, you can begin to understand how your current resources fill the needs dictated by your goal. All of the gaps in your resources become potential roles to hire for. List these potential hiring roles out in order based on how much of an impact they have on your company’s ultimate goal.

Be Agile

At the beginning of your startup company’s life, it may be necessary for each person to fill a few roles. For example, if Startup A (from example #1 above) only has the budget to fill their need for a marketing director, they may decide that all team members should share the responsibility of answering customer service emails for 1 hour per day. This can work well if there aren’t too many emails coming in – or if answering customer questions provides key insights for the team to act on. However, if Startup A is going to be truly scalable, they will need to outsource or hire for the role of customer service eventually.

Successful startup companies have teams that are able to adapt to (and recover from) unexpected changes. Because of the unpredictability of startups, it can be helpful to hire people who are either highly specialized or uniquely versatile. C-level roles, such as CTO and CFO, which require a high-level of specialty should be filled by experienced individuals. Other roles, such as customer service and marketing, maybe a better fit for versatile candidates who have a well-rounded resume and skills that can allow them to serve in multiple capacities.

Important Hires for eCommerce Startups

While these may not be the very first positions you need to hire full-time, all fast-growing e-commerce startups will benefit from these key roles:

  1. Operations Manager – Creative innovators aren’t always adept at running a strategic business. Hiring someone who is organized, detail-oriented, and goal-driven to manage your operations is critical for scalable growth.
  2. Data Analyst – Focus on leveraging data to drive business decisions and make continuous improvements. Data-driven businesses can skyrocket their odds for success.
  3. Recruiter – Whether you outsource this or hire an in-house recruiter, filling this role with someone who understands your brand’s mission will help your company focus on hiring more of the right people for each new position as your business grows.

Hiring the Right Startup Team

According to a 2018 analysis of 101 post-mortem startups, not having the right team in place was the cause of death for 23% of startups. In some cases, it was because the necessary roles weren’t filled at all. In other cases, the wrong hire created a snowball effect of poor decisions.

There is a lot of talk about “culture” in the startup environment. Startups like Buffer often put a high value on hiring team members that will perpetuate the core values and ideas – and sometimes even the lifestyle – that the original founders set forth in a mission statement. However, what may be most valuable in a startup is the ability to work toward a goal as a cohesive team. Teams that are able to overcome or recover from obstacles together – and to come out stronger as a result – are better positioned for success.

Consider whether you are hiring employees or teammates. By treating new hires as valued team members, instead of simply task-driven employees, you can cultivate a sense of community and dedication to the team.

For roles that don’t necessarily require a high level of experience, personality can far outweigh skills. If the skills can be taught on the job, feel free to hire someone who has all the other traits to be a great fit. After all, you can teach someone how to be a great salesperson or marketer of your product – but passion, work ethic, team mentality, and eagerness to contribute aren’t necessarily attributes you can train into every candidate. While it can be a high opportunity cost to delay filling an important role, it can also be quite expensive to hire the wrong full-time person for the job.

If you are having trouble finding the right local candidate to fill a full-time position, consider whether one of these options would fit your needs:

  • Can you hire a team member to work remotely instead of locally?
  • Can you hire a virtual assistant or a freelancer to fill the role?
  • Can you hire a temporary worker through an agency until you find the right full-time candidate?

Ideally, the perfect candidates to hire for your startup will be the people who see your big vision and are motivated to turn it into reality alongside you. Creating a company where your team members feel like they are contributing value to a shared cause can be a perfect formula for startup success.

Which roles are you seeking to fill for your startup company? Tell us in the comments, and see if you can connect someone else to the right person for their hiring needs.

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Bea Tanese

Bea Tanese

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