By Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers

Early stage entrepreneurs face a host of urgent challenges, from raising enough money to get their ideas off the ground to protecting the intellectual property that sets their companies apart.

Of all these early responsibilities, assembling an exceptional team is arguably the most consequential. Your first few hires establish your internal culture, shape external perceptions of the company and provide crucial support during the pre-revenue phase. The right mix of early employees:

  • Helps your organization develop a strong internal culture that attracts and supports talent.
  • Impresses the stakeholders you'll need as you grow.
  • Shortens the pre-revenue phase, raising your organization's chances of thriving for years to come.

Early hires matter tremendously for your company's growth trajectory. Regardless of your company's individual needs, certain types of employees are essential for all growing companies. These are the five people you should have on your team:

1. The Serial Founder

The serial founder has years of experience in founding, scaling and exiting startups. Even if they're on board temporarily or agree to serve in an advisory capacity only, their expertise is invaluable. Because their insights are especially valuable in the pre-revenue stage, the serial founder should be among your first hires.

Seasoned founders don't grow on trees, of course, and those with successful exits under their belts are rarer still. Avoid setting arbitrary conditions that shrink your pool of prospective founder-employees, such as minimum dollar values on past exits.

Instead, use the hiring process to illuminate and differentiate each serial founder's approach to launching and scaling startups. Discuss the specific early stage challenges they've faced, and map those experiences to the problems you're working to solve.

Since they'll likely be involved in hiring other employees, devote special attention to their team-building approach. What do they look for in new hires?

2. The Curious Type

The curious type is passionate about learning and eager to take on new projects outside their comfort zone, with or without prior experience. More than any other archetype on this list, they'll help pick up the slack as you grow.

A great way to gauge a candidate's curiosity is to turn the tables and ask what questions they have for you. It's a standard part of the interview process, but treat it as more than a formality. Press candidates to ask out-of-the-box or sensitive questions. If the best they can do is "Why did you start this company?" they may lack curiosity.

3. The Flexible Type

The flexible type is resilient, tenacious and willing to roll with the punches. These characteristics are essential for success in a dynamic early stage environment, and they're difficult -- if not impossible -- to teach.

Determine a candidate's flexibility by asking open-ended questions about how they've dealt with challenges in the past, up to and including serious setbacks such as a layoff or corporate failure. Present modified versions of actual problems your company is facing -- such as customer acquisition struggles or the departure of a key employee -- and ask how they would handle them.

Flexibility is inherently subjective, but you're looking for answers that suggest the candidate can manage the challenges they may face on day one.

4. The Subject Matter Expert

The subject matter expert (SME) is more likely to thrive in a well-defined domain. Think of your SMEs as the wireframe of your organization -- the key process owners under whom you'll add additional hires.

Early on, look for SMEs with demonstrated experience in domains essential to your revenue strategy: product development, sales and user experience.

5. The True Believer

Everyone you hire should believe in your organization's mission, but true believers go above and beyond. Their presence keeps the organization grounded and true to its core values, which is a boon for both internal culture and external perceptions.

Start by clearly articulating your company's mission and values in job postings. Ask candidates to articulate their own values and goals in detailed cover letters. 

During the interview itself, ask each candidate to describe a professional situation in which they felt pressured to violate deeply held values or beliefs. An unsatisfactory answer may suggest a lack of deeply held beliefs or convictions.

Probe further with questions that tease out candidates' affinity for your organization's mission or values. For instance, my company is a personal finance publisher, so we might ask prospective hires to describe the importance of financial literacy.

Final Thoughts

As your growing company works to raise seed capital, generate scalable revenue streams and grab market share from incumbent and startup competitors alike, these five types of employees will provide a powerful tailwind.

Just don't assume these are the only types of employees your company will ever need. The problems you'll face with 10 employees are different from the problems you'll face with 100 or 1,000 employees.

Andrew Schrage is CEO of Money Crashers, helping consumers and small businesses build strong foundations on the path to financial and personal success.

Published on: Nov 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.