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How to hire and manage your startup team?

My recent trip to the states culminated on a high note.  The startup space is abuzz with activity and a slew of brilliant concepts are raring to break new ground in their domains. What’s more exciting, is that a lot of non-technical entrepreneurs are taking the plunge into the tech startup waters.

Despite the upbeat atmosphere, many startups aren’t getting as much out of their idea as they should be. With an increasing number of non-technical founders, business and product visions often misalign and the execution goes haywire.

However, while executing their ideas, most founders often go wrong at the very beginning itself- setting up their product development teams.

As someone who’s worked with startups for over a decade, I often get asked, So how does one go about bootstrapping a startup with the right team? Trialing out versions to get it right works with products, not teams. In his book, Facts and Fallacies of Software Development, Robert Glass quotes “the best programmers are up to 28 times better than the worst programmers”.

In my opinion, the best approach to bootstrapping your startup with the right people focuses on three aspects – hiring the team, structuring the team, and managing the team.

Hiring the Startup Team

While larger organizations rely on the strength of their processes, startups are all about people. When it comes to hiring your team, these are some of the criteria you should look for:

  • Strong Technical Skills and Analytical Skills: Unlike larger businesses, start-ups cannot make do with functionally sound resources that are further off from technology, operating in clearly defined roles. Start-ups have smaller setups and come across rarely encountered complexities almost daily. Naturally, there is heavy reliance on each team member for their technical and analytical expertise.
  • Passion for Solving Complex Issues: Start-ups are highly dynamic and each day brings a new set of perplexing challenges to deal with. Often, the most complex issues need a strong drive to solve over the actual knowledge and those are the kind of people you should bootstrap your start-up with.
  • Potential over Experience: The number of years they have worked for, is a standard parameter to judge how much a prospective team member knows. But the potential they have to contribute to a team matters more when it comes to hiring for a bootstrapped team.   

Structuring the Startup Team

As a soccer game progresses, managers tweak the team structure to ensure that it is on the winning path. Defenders or midfielders are brought into the unit to ensure the best line-up at all times.

I always relate this example to the stages of a startup’s life cycle and it clearly elucidates how crucial it is to structure your team correctly.

The needs of a startup differ during different stages and so should the team composition. During the MVP stage, an ideal team has a higher ratio of experts (UX experts, big data engineers, etc) to generalists (full stack engineers). Once live, fine tuning and enhancements require more generalists as opposed to experts.

Managing the Startup Team

For most startups, brand value is virtually non-existent and attracting great talent to staff a small team is a tough challenge. But keeping them on board throughout product development requires dedicated effort.

  • Providing Technical Mentor-ship: With only a few peers to look up to, one often goes astray when the going gets tough. A technically strong mentor helming the ship, provides the much needed anchor for the team to rally around in tough situations.
  • Communicating a Clear Product Development Road-map: Quite a few founders begin product development with just an idea and business vision in mind. But product development needs its own road-map, without which your team is likely to work under a lot of uncertainty and insecurity.

Although market forces will often make you work around it, defining a product development road-map and clearly communicating it is crucial in order to keep people on board and focused.

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Business Head at Talentica Software

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