Hiring your first employees is an important--and often daunting--step for any small business. A great deal of thought, worry, and investment of time and money goes into any new hire, and when you're new to bringing people on board, you don't have the benefit of experience to guide you. Tap the insight of these successful entrepreneurs, who share their best tips--and unfortunate missteps--that can help you build the foundation of a great team.

Don't be wowed by resumes

When serial entrepreneur Kirsten Mangers launched her first start-up during the 90's dot-com boom, her investors suggested she bring on board a well-credentialed employee as Chief Technology Officer (CTO). He had a stellar resume with a Harvard University degree and held management positions at several large software firms. "Instead of selling me on why I should hire him, I ended up selling him on why he should come aboard," she says. "I ended up giving him three percent of the company--way more than I should have."

Quickly, she realized he wasn't the right fit. "He was a big company individual, and he didn't know how to work for a startup in hyper growth mode," she says. "His resume gave me bedroom eyes, but an early-stage startup doesn't need lofty resumes; it needs people who know how to work in the weeds." She says an entrepreneur should throw out the traditional hiring rules. She wishes she had chosen an up-and-coming CTO who had held six jobs in four years, because he would have learned bootstrapping and would still be eager to make his mark.

Lesson: Read between the lines of the resume. The best credentials don't necessarily make the best fit.

Kirsten Mangers, managing director of Chicklabs, an incubator and consulting practice for entrepreneurs, was a judge for Get Started Orange County 2017, one of a nationwide series of fast-paced pitch competitions created by Cox Business.

Hire for enthusiasm

When Lauren Thom launched Fleurty Girl, it immediately became a Big Easy mainstay, selling, as its slogan says, "Everything New Orleans," from T-shirts to Mardi Gras outfits. When she opened a retail location, her email box was flooded from local people who wanted to sell the products they had seen online.

She realized that was the enthusiasm she needed: The stores weren't just retail locations, but museums for the city. Employees needed to tell visitors about the city's rich history and places to go. As Thom puts it, she can teach anyone to work a register, but she can't teach enthusiasm.weren't just retail locations, but museums for the city. Employees needed to tell visitors about the city's rich history and places to go. As Thom puts it, she can teach anyone to work a register, but she can't teach enthusiasm.

Lesson: Hire people who are like your customers.

Lauren Thom was a judge for Get Started New Orleans 2015.

Focus on core values

Susan Cox got her first job as a telemarketer at age 13, so when she started her company, LogoJet, an early pioneer in direct-to-substrate printing, she knew what made a good employee.

"You have to decide on the core values that are important to you or your customers, and find employees who embody those values," she says.

She and her husband, who started the firm together, made a long list of values that were important to them, and whittled it down to a few key elements: teamwork, attention to detail, solution-oriented, willing go the extra mile, sense of urgency, and knowledgeable. They printed the list out, and hung it on the wall. And that list guides their hiring.

Lesson: If you can't succinctly describe what's really important to you, you'll have difficulty finding employees that will take your business in the right direction.

Susan Cox was a judge for Get Started Louisiana 2017.

Don't box them in

Jim Blasingame, president and founder of the Small Business Network, says the key first hires can only be successful if the business owner empowers them rather than pigeonholing them into a specific role.

He says too many entrepreneurs just tell people to do their job, but taking a high-growth company to the next level requires you to let these hires "be smart." He says even if an entrepreneur is the smartest person in the room, he should always be asking, "What do you think?"

Lesson: Hire people whose opinions you respect-;and then constantly ask for it.

Jim Blasingame was a judge at Get Started Tucson 2014.

Stay lean as long as possible

In 2014, Armand Sepulveda was a student at the University of Florida and a part-time camera operator for ESPN. He had the idea of creating an automated camera, which tracked subjects using facial recognition, that universities could use to record their games. His fraternity friends like the idea so much, 10 came on board to help, and a pal who was going to law school handled the taxes and legal structure. And, quickly, Dycap Media Solutions was born.

Just as quickly, Sepulveda realized the downside of working with friends: they didn't bring the skills he actually needed to get his startup off the ground. "I was just too arbitrary," he says.

"Instead of hiring so many people so quickly, I realized I should have remained lean and simple, outsourcing as much as possible, he says." Of the original 10 employees, only one remains. "At the end of the day, the company at its startup stage only needed two employees," he says now. "One to make the product and one to sell the product."

Lesson: Be careful bringing friends aboard-;find people who have the skills you truly need.

Armand Sepulveda won first place at Get Started Gainesville 2016.

 

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