I was asked about this topic recently by an early stage CEO and I said the following things, which sounded pretty good so I will repeat it for others who may get value from it, or may want to add to it.
In order to have great people join your early stage company in my experience you need to have a few critical areas covered. If you don’t have all of them you don’t get the best. They, the “A” players, make it happen. You want them on your bus, not at your competition.
These are the critical things to focus on as I see it:
1) A BIG vision. Great people need to be part of something big. That big idea of game changing opportunity has to be felt and voiced by the leadership team. Otherwise you get people who don’t care about the vision who won’t think big enough to set the stage for greatness. Shoot for the moon and you’ll at worst land among the stars.
2) A business model or a key metric employees can understand. No one wants to be part of something that they feel will probably fail to attract investors and grow. We make this product and sell it for X, and it scales to Z market size at a reasonable penetration rate. We are going to sell a SaaS product for Y per month, or process Y billion transactions per month and make money on each transaction. Parents and friends ask how does the startup make money, but they don’t ask you that if you join Google or Goldman. If you are going after a “metric” like daily users then hopefully you can point to other companies that scale on that metric. Of course there are outliers, but let’s be real…most companies that succeed have some grounding in reality.
3) Build a great culture people want to live and work in. Smart, innovative, fun, analytical, honest, respectful, collaborative? It needs to come from the top. Do people feel like they want to come to work everyday? Is it a collaborative “get shit done” mindset? Can they walk up to the CEO and other sr staff and say “what’s up” and bring up a suggestion? Are opinions respected while you still set up a corporate structure that lets people divide and conquer? Are the perks meaningful and aligned with the mission?
4) Be unafraid to “prune.” This can be the toughest part. If you have some members on the team that don’t fit the role well or aren’t high performers it will start to show (you’ll feel it) as new rockstars join the team. They may be “good enough” in your mind but that’s not enough to build something great. Make change quickly or risk losing the good ones…once they are out the replacement energy from a new hire will take you further faster. Sometimes this is really hard – it might be co-founders or others who are friends with you that got involved early. But you still need to do what’s right for your business and everyone will be happier. Try to find a more fitting role for them, or make the cut you know you need to make.
The amazing team who gets involved early makes all the difference in getting to your first big milestones and is wind at your back. Keep these areas in mind and hopefully you’ll have an A+ team that will take you to the big game in a party bus. I hope this was helpful, thanks for reading!