A few years ago, when I started LogoMix, I wasn't the first employee. Since I was bootstrapping my startup and not taking a salary, I wasn't technically an employee at all.

Still, I was working in, and definitely on, the business--which recently sold for $43 million. (I feel pretty good about that.)

I also needed people to help build the business. So, the first people I hired full-time were engineers--their programming and technical skills complemented my product management and marketing expertise.

I knew how to identify customer needs, solve customer problems, and help customers grow their businesses. What I couldn't do was perform the nuts and bolts required to implement my ideas and my vision for the company. Those first hires helped build a minimum viable product to roll out to customers so we could evaluate the results, collect valuable feedback, start to build a customer base.

In fact, they did such a great job that we were generating revenue the day I started working full-time at LogoMix. How often does that happen?

The point: I didn't hire people to help me do what I do well. I didn't hire "assistants." I didn't hire people to take on some of my workload.

I hired people to do things that were absolutely critical to the success of the business--and things I couldn't do.

That's who your first hire should be. Your first hire must have skills that fill gaps that your skills, expertise, and background simply can't fill.

For example:

  • If you're a great salesperson, your first employee should have product development or operations skills. A great salesperson without a great product and reliable delivery is all talk and no action.
  • If you're great at operations, your first employee should be great at marketing. A great product without great marketing is a product nobody will ever discover.
  • If you're a great programmer, you'll need someone to improve your new, shiny site's user experience: a great product manager. Product managers know how to work with designers and engineers. They can develop positioning, pricing, and go-to-market strategies. They'll work with customers to identify improvements and enhancements. An elegant solution that doesn't meet a real need and can't be delivered profitably isn't an elegant solution at all.

You bring certain specific skills to the startup table. Out of the many hats you can wear, some will fit you perfectly. Others, not so much.

Spend as much time as you possibly can doing the things you do best. In my case, that was managing the product creation process, and then marketing the services we created. Could I have learned to program? Maybe. Could I have learned to overcome difficult engineering challenges? Maybe.

Could I have tried to do everything myself? Absolutely. But then, LogoMix would have failed. Heck, it never would have gotten off the ground.

Before you start your company--and definitely before you hire your first employee--take a step back. Think about your idea, and then what your company will need to actually execute that idea.

Then, perform a clear-eyed, honest, and objective assessment of your strengths. Determine the best role or roles for you to play. Decide what skills are needed to complement your expertise and execute your idea.

And then, hire the person (or persons) who can fill those gaps and bring the right expertise to bear. Successful startups are built by individuals who bring a variety of skills that, collectively, make up a team that possesses all the skills required to build a successful company.

Published on: May 17, 2018