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5 Steps for Building a Great Startup Team

Follow this process to assemble the right people during the early stages of building your business.

No matter how strong an idea you have, the fate of your startup ultimately rests on the shoulders of your team. After all, it could take only one weak member to bring down your entire business. My last startup had this problem, and it caused the company to crumble in a matter of months. We wasted time, money, and an amazing idea.

So how can you be certain that you've assembled the right team? Here are five steps to use when building your startup dream team.

1. Identify Positions

The most important members of your team are the founders. Before hiring anyone else, you and your co-founder have to settle on how decisions will be made within the startup. For example, are you the technical expert and your co-founder the marketing whiz? That right there should determine the structure and foundation of your startup.

Once that has been agreed upon, you should identify the positions needed to complete your team. Jobs in SEO, sales & marketing, programming, account management, and project management are just a handful of examples of positions that need to be filled. When identifying these positions, make sure that you prioritize them and find people with talents that other team members don't have. It wouldn't make sense to hire five project managers and not a single programmer, would it?

Keep in mind, of course, how much money you have in the bank to pay for the positions you require.

2. Advisers, Contracts, Partners vs. Full Timers

When starting out, you may not have to hire full-time employees. For example, you could attend an industry event or find industry-leading blogs that help you locate talented advisers (such as market or domain expert, connector, industry celebrity, personal coach, and technical expert). You can do the same with other positions--make a design firm your partner, for example. Or hire skilled contractors.

You also may be able to hire people on a part-time basis who are excellent at what they do. It's safer than taking the chance on a full-time employee who may not deliver.

I personally advise many different companies as well as run my own consulting firm where I help startups. I've found that having people as contractors at the beginning and then moving to full-time employees is the best way to leverage a full set of skills for your business.

3. Identify Candidates

There should be four considerations when searching for candidates:

  • They have experience in areas that other team members do not.
  • They can be vouched for--you know them or know someone who knows them.
  • They are able to start at a limited salary or for a stake in the startup.
  • They are fans of your product.

If you can find people who meet the above criteria, you have a great chance of putting together a winning team.

4. The Hiring Process

So you've found some qualified candidates. Now it's time for the hiring process, which begins with an interview. The Wall Street Journal has a nifty little guide you should use if you've never conducted an interview. Some of the instructions:

  • Prepare in advance
  • Have questions in the following categories: fact-finding, creative thinking, problem solving, and behavioral
  • Create an agenda
  • Be on the lookout for nonverbal clues

Following the interview, do some fact-checking and a background check on the potential employee. If everything goes smoothly, go ahead and hire the individual. Once that person has been considered, give him or her tests. Start with a smaller project and work up to larger tasks. During these tests, you can see how the prospective hire communicates with other team members and handles pressure, and whether he or she can actually get the job done.

5. Post-Hire

Let's say the candidate passed your tests with flying colors and has become a part of your team. Does that mean everything is all said and done? Not really. Once that employee has been hired, you want to do some post-hire assessment. This means having strategies in place for training, promotion, and career development. These will serve as incentives for your team members.

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Last updated: Aug 18, 2014

JOHN RAMPTON

An entrepreneur, investor, and connector, John Rampton is the editor-at-large of search engine marketing news site Search Engine Journal and founder of Palo Alto, California-based Adogy, a marketing company specializing in helping startups.




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