The wheels for your startup are in motion: You’ve found an awesome co-founder(s), have some early revenue or funding, and you’re drowning in work. And you’re ready (or desperate?) to hand off some of your to-do list to someone else.
So, how do you approach the all-important task of hiring your first employees?
I and my co-founders at Swing Education were in this position four years ago, and I’m proud to say we did a pretty good job: 11 of our first 12 hires are still with us today. Based on our successes with early hiring and what we’ve learned since, here are four principles I’d suggest early-stage edtech startups consider when making their first hires.
1. Let Trust Guide the Way
There are no interview questions that can give you the same confidence as having previously worked alongside someone. I knew our first hire, Janine, because we were colleagues for two years at a previous job. I was 100 percent sure that she could do the job that we needed her to, with tons of potential to grow. The other thing I was sure of was that she was someone I trusted to set culture.
The obvious thing is to hire someone for how much you think they’ll get done. Less obvious is that this person will become integral to the future culture of the company, and often times by accident. Great culture can buy you, as a founder, enough relationship capital to get you through a few tough times.
2. Confidence Is the Currency of Acceleration
Spending $5,000 to attend a conference is an easy call if you know it’ll generate $30,000 in contracts in the next 12 months. You just won’t know until 14 months after the $5,000 is owed, so you have to figure out how to make a good guess and move on.
That’s why it’s so important to find early hires who are confident decision-makers even in the face of uncertainty. There are an infinite amount of things to do early on, and you need to complete as many of the important tasks as possible.
In general, we always tried to avoid getting stuck in indecision early on. When you’re in the early stages of building a company, you’ll be making countless decisions without full information. And ultimately, for as many decisions as you’ll make in the early days of your company, a decent number of them won’t really change the trajectory of your startup. You and your team just have to make them; otherwise, you’ll get bottle-necked on every decision.
3. Prioritize Shared Values
Swing has prioritized building an inclusive and supportive work environment from day one. That’s meant hiring people whose values align with ours — individuals who are committed to rapid learning, collaboration, diversity, and inclusion.
While early employees don’t get a co-founder title, they will have an out-sized impact on creating your company’s culture.
4. Bet on Success
Bet on your success when it comes to hiring. If you’re planning your hiring around being worried about what may happen if you don’t hit your goals, then you won’t hit your goals. Staff your company to hit the goals.
This is not to suggest that you should hire recklessly. As a founder, you have a responsibility to your co-founders, investors, and prospective employees to be responsible with your funds and to position the company to succeed. But after you’ve broken down the data and made your best projections, don’t hesitate to aggressively recruit and hire the employees you need. Only rethink your plan if data suggests it’s not working out.
Of course, hitting a home run with your first hires is just one piece of the successful startup puzzle, and I look forward to sharing more about our growth at Swing Education soon. If there’s anything you want to hear about, please find me on @edumiketeng or firstname.lastname@example.org!