Like it or not, startup culture is all about the sizzle. Which new product will have the snap and crackle to pop crowds and investors? For tech startups, the sizzle is important, but the substance behind it — the steak, if you will — is what keeps you in the game.
And just as any sirloin slab is only as good as the chef cooking it, the next big tech product needs a great team to build it out. Hiring at a tech startup is different from hiring anywhere else, and those nuances will greatly impact whom and how you hire.
For starters, most first hires at tech startups have equity included in their compensation packages. Their salaries might be lower, but with skin in the game, employees have vested interests in the company’s success. Most startup employees understand this, but it is important to be clear on the front end.
Pulling together the best team will take your startup a long way toward substance and sizzle. Now you just need to consider the right ingredients.
The Best Ingredients for Your Tech Startup
OK, to stretch the analogy just a bit, think of your team as the necessary ingredients to a great steak dinner. The best steaks are properly seasoned, yet not excessively so.
Startups are the same way. Companies grow quickly, and employees are asked to wear a lot of hats. Early hires have to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to help the organization.
All the cooks have to be excited to be in the kitchen. The salary you pay them will increase your burn rate, so it must be worth it. You know employees need to be hard-working, passionate, and talented. But what exactly do you need to bring your steak to the startup table?
Obviously, this will be a little different for each company. In the very early days, many choose to outsource. This can be a great model as you flesh out your business strategy. Then, after you have funding, you can bring on the team you need.
That said, tech startups must exhibit due diligence when hiring in three key positions.
1. Technical co-founder: Steve Jobs had the vision to make Apple a household name. Steve Wozniak had the technical know-how to make that vision a reality.
Early on, the CEO/founder should hire for skill sets to complement his or her own. This often means bringing on a technical co-founder to really design and develop the product.
2. CFO: This role might be easy to outsource for a while, but it’s still an important early hire. Square CFO Sarah Friar used a rowing analogy, to sum up her duties.
Handling the money means setting the pace and showing the rest of the boat — or company — what can be done.
The CFO will obviously manage money, but she can also be the point person for handling road shows and investors.
3. Engineer: This is one role you don’t want to outsource for too long. A botched job on the product can be expensive and time-consuming.
Slack Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield outsourced the app’s technical development. When finished, he and his team used the workplace messaging forum among themselves, then opened it up to a few users before going with a hard launch.
Today, Slack is valued at $3.8 billion and recently appointed an engineering chief to oversee the app’s in-house evolution. Hiring a great engineer to work with the technical co-founder will add a lot to the team.
Whom you hire first is really a decision based on circumstances. Just remember, not all sizzle is good.
If you don’t want to be a flash in the pan, think long and hard about what ingredients you bring to your steak.