Passion, values, culture and your gut. What do you need to think about when hiring as a start-up?

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a business owner is hiring staff. So, we advise that you focus on passion, values, culture and your gut as much as cost and CVs.

First, be reassured that surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you at specific tasks is the key to unlocking future success. a team as a start-up may be one of the first times you’ll really need to sell your business because the average start-up staff budget and the level of talent needed to drive success don’t necessarily go hand in hand. So it’s fundamental to be able to enthuse potential members of staff: if you can get an incredibly talented individual excited enough to take a pay cut and work for you, you have a good thing going. 

Whilst passion is needed to pull people round to your ideas, a strong company culture will help keep this passion alive throughout your team. says the key to hiring the right staff is to write down a list of the values that are important to you, and a subset that are critical to creating value for your clients. You then need to ensure that only the people who truly share these values get through the hiring process. They also point out that it’s equally important not to waste time if you realise you’ve hired someone who isn’t right for your business – a business owner needs to manage out people who do not fit into the culture of the start-up quickly and effectively. 

There are many ways to ensure that you hire the right people for your start-up, but one of the most important has to be gut feeling. If you feel as though someone is wrong for the role and the business, despite them having a perfect CV, you have to listen to that feeling. 

As a start-up, you’re going to be working in a high-pressure role, with a very small group of people. Therefore, it’s so important that the whole team gets along with your new hire. Hubba founder Inbae Ahn’s advice is that: “If after an interview, you don’t feel like you and that candidate are rooting for each other’s success, keep looking”. 

Many start-up founders are tempted to hire a group of their friends when first starting out, feeling that this is somehow safer. Whilst this can work in some cases, it can also ruin friendships. Serial entrepreneur and founder of GrantTree Daniel Tenner describes his experience of starting up with a friend, it’s a great insight into how knowing your business partner really well can, in fact, be a downside. Hiring successfully as a start-up means that you need to hire a team with varied skill sets. Having a company full of people who are just like you might be a lot of fun, but it will leave major gaps in your business. Taking on like-minded people with different strengths will always make for a better business.

Co-founder and COO of UberFlip, Randy Frisch, has some great advice on how to manage the hiring process and gives real insights into what it’s like to make, what he calls, a “bad hire”. He says:

  • “There’s no such thing as ‘I’m looking for a role where I can settle in’. The person who has a CV that jumps every 6 months is not just looking for the right fit – they simply don’t fit in anywhere. Don’t assume your company will be their saviour.
  • The candidate who tells you ‘the one hour commute is not going to be an issue’ is often just excited about the role, ignoring the reality. Only hire these people if they have done the commute before. The honeymoon period sitting on the train or car doesn’t last long.
  • Avoid square pegs and round holes – culture is a huge priority for us, yet too often I looked at accomplishments on a CV over and above cultural fit. A top performer in Company X can easily be a Bad Hire in your environment. Do not underestimate the importance of fitting in with your surroundings.
  • But here’s the one that is most important and I’m sure you can all relate to: Listen to your gut during interviews. I can think of something that did not feel right during the interview process with almost every one of our 6 Bad Hires. It can be their lack of initiative, poor follow up or just a bad vibe. I’m not saying to look for Mr or Miss Perfect every time, but dig in on the quirks and try to determine if they’ll lead to a bad fit. Too often I tried to overlook that eerie signal in favour of the positives.”

Great advice that every entrepreneur should take heed of, whether you’re embarking on your first or hundred and first member of staff!

Don’t forget: not long left to apply for the Catalyst Centre!