Hire the right people. If there is one piece of advice we hear constantly as startup founders it's this obvious nugget of "wisdom." But what defines "right," and what background are we actually hiring for?

I've now stumbled through three startups as a founder from scratch to scale and hired people at all stages from one to 500 employees. I think we can all agree that smarts and strong work ethic form a good foundation to succeed at any company size, but the skills needed at various stages are quite different.

However, there's one type of person that I've found to be absolutely necessary in the first 100 hires, and very helpful at any stage. I call them renaissance people.

What defines a renaissance person? In any area of an organization, there are typically three things required of team members to have a meaningful impact:

  • Make sound decisions.
  • Build systems or processes to facilitate execution.
  • Do the work.

Most people are skilled in only one of these areas. Renaissance people, in contrast, have the superpower of being able to do each of these things equally well to drive a company forward. Here's why this matters, and how renaissance people are ideal for startups.

Speed of execution

How fast a startup can execute is its primary competitive advantage over large corporations, and your team should be designed to exploit this advantage. The very definition of a renaissance person solves part of the speed equation: someone who can own an initiative end-to-end eliminates the inefficiencies that come with shared decision-making and information handoffs.

Beyond this, renaissance people bring the judgment required to de-prioritize unnecessary minutiae and focus only on the essentials that drive progress.

Speed of learning

With startups looking to create and dominate a new market, there is no blueprint for success. This places outsized importance on fast learning and improvement. If iteration is dependent on a three person chain for every step, too much is lost in translation which creates massive inefficiencies and slows pace of learning.

By being able to analyze information and feedback loops and quickly implement solutions, a renaissance person improves at every moment while avoiding the critical mistake of heading too far in the wrong direction.

Use of capital

Clearly hiring one person instead of three is more capital efficient, but the renaissance person solves the problem of not having the right resources when inevitable changes in direction are required.

Or, are you looking to take on a new initiative but worried about having the ideal resource?

No problem. These days, there is a software tool to do just about everything. Most renaissance people have sufficiently invested in learning script languages or SQL to be able to make decisions, setup tools, and execute tests without requiring fluency in Python or C++ or additional team members. This is how a job gets done Monday morning before others are even out of bed.

The ultimate renaissance person is the founder who can create strategy, build systems, and execute. This accelerates the time to product-market fit. But having a renaissance person in other functions--from operations to marketing to sales--is essential to quickly furthering product iteration.

Even later, when being hands on in everything is de-emphasized, renaissance skills create a huge edge to perform, and can help solve many 0 to 1 problems.

Does "renaissance person" describe you? Great. Now go find a startup you are passionate about and put your skills to good use.