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Beyond the Pitch

5 Common Missteps to Avoid Building a Team

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Building the right team from the start

There’s no period in the life of a company when the next new hire has as much impact as during the early years as a startup team grows from one to two, to four, to eight. The stress of building the right team with the skills and experience you need to grow can be tough, but from our experience working with startups, it is doable.

In the exuberance of adding people, it’s common to see entrepreneurs make avoidable missteps. No hiring strategy is foolproof, but entrepreneurs can build the right team by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Failing to achieve a cultural fit.

A startup is different from a corporation or a professional practice. There is no staff. The startup team is doing so many things for the first time; there are few defined processes, more questions than answers, and never enough cash, revenue, or hours in the day. With fifty fires in an afternoon and more surprises than a case of Cracker Jacks, most days are more like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill than Shaun White snowboarding down the mountain. It takes a certain type of person to flourish in that type of environment. Look for someone who has done it before, an individual contributor, who knows how to play on a team.

2. Not thoroughly verifying each potential hire’s background and expertise.

Dive deep. Do not rely on interviews alone—especially for sales positions. Verify education. Require and interview references, including peers, subordinates, and supervisors. Ask potential hires to supply the name of a person who won’t give a glowing referral—someone who might be neutral or even little negative. Contract with a service to perform a background check. Scour the Internet and social media. If you find pending or prior legal events, false information, or anything else that bothers you, take a pass on the person. Entrepreneurs don’t have the time and startups don’t have the infrastructure to deal with such matters.

3. Hiring people who are functionally or personality-wise too much like you.

If you are outgoing and action-oriented, it might be wise to seek out a strategic hire who is quieter and more deliberate. If your expertise is technical, value the teammate who understands market development or finance. It’s only natural that we are attracted to people with whom we share common interests, but you are building a founding team; you aren’t hiring to find a new “bestie”. You want associates who can do things that you can’t and who are what you aren’t. Be deliberate about building out a well-rounded and diverse team with functional, cultural, racial, gender diversity.

4. Underestimating how long it takes to find the right new hire, regardless of the job.

In a startup, every hire is a strategic hire. If you move in a hurry, it’s guaranteed that you will make a mistake. That’s why it’s important, from day one, to be on the lookout for people you might want to add to your team when the time is right. Go to university job fairs and interview. Post jobs six to 12 months before you are ready to hire. Get experience interviewing and asking questions. Learn how to decipher resumes.

5. Waiting too long to correct a mistake.

Maybe it’s the wrong person in the wrong job. Or the wrong teammate matched to the wrong customer. Or perhaps the person should never have been hired in the first place. Cut the cord. Take a breath, and learn from that mistake, so that you don’t make it again.

Remember, it’s easier to reinvent a prototype than to untangle the adverse effects of the “wrong” first team. Building the right team from the start will allow you to focus on your product and market, rather than constantly putting out HR fires.

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