You’ve got a killer business idea, you’ve secured a bit of funding and you are ready to take on the world. Just a little hick-up there: nobody can do it alone - you need a team. But what kind of team do you need? How do you make sure you get the most bang for your buck, especially when money is tight and you want to create the most value with the least amount resources?
Hiring for a startup is a hard nut to crack and one where you should focus more on qualities than sole competencies. It takes a certain type of person to work in an early-stage startup; they often need to be flexible, willing to wear many hats and able to think on their feet when needed. Startup life isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
Building a complete team is riskier for an early-stage startup than it is for an established company with constant cash flow. Do you need an entire product development team? Do you need help with your go-to-market strategy? How about customer experience and client onboarding? Is the product even ready enough for us to be thinking about onboarding?!
Relax, everything is going to be fine. Let’s walk through this together.
Early-stage startup must-haves
1. The Visionary
I’d like to be a Captain Obvious here for a bit. Every startup needs to have a Visionary – someone who holds the idea of the product or service that will disrupt how things have been done until now.
The Visionary doesn’t spend every ounce of their energy on the product or service only but also focuses on communication and the team around the product. The Visionary is the one who translates the complex into bite-sized bits of information that everyone can understand. Visionaries are not just thinking about business and strategy - they go beyond that and are always on the look-out for trying new things, new projects and new undertakings.
The Visionary is charismatic, an outstanding communicator and not afraid of taking risks.
How we can help you, Visionary?
We can spar your vision and your business idea. No great idea has been developed to perfection in a vacuum. We dive deep into your business model and product to advise you on your Digital Strategy. If you are the only person working at your startup, we can help you figure out what kind of minimum viable team you need in order to make your business grow.
2. Chief Operating Officer
Whereas the Visionary is flying high, all startups need someone to handle the operational side. This can be a Chief Operating Officer (or a similar title that looks good on your business card). In a startup, this role has quite a few practicalities in it: finances, estimates, forecasts, creating targets and processes, outlining new roles and responsibilities, and so on. Every operational thing that comes to running a business falls on this table.
A startup COO is organized and always on the pulse when it comes to customers and their pain-points. As process-driven and efficiency-focused people always do, they come up with roadmaps and proactively flag issues before they occur. Quality is a matter of the heart for them and they daydream about forecasts being 90% accurate for once.
How we can help you, COO?
Our Service Design methods are helpful when new processes need to be evaluated and set in motion. We offer support with digital strategy and help to implement it. As COO your role is to lead operations, and you can benefit from our know-how on change management. If you aren't really a techy person, it might come in handy to have someone that helps you and your team communicate about tech in a more human manner.
3. The Product Owner
Many tech startups are started by the Product Owner together with the Visionary. Sometimes it’s the same person even. The PO is the master of the product or service, a problem-solver who impresses others with a vast knowledge of their domain and technologies. The PO is usually the tech-person, the one who knows the product or service inside-out and can most likely tell you exactly what was going on in V0.9.1.
The challenge with this role is that despite their strong vision and expertise in the technical development of the product, not every tech person is design-oriented. Why does it matter? Because design brings the customer into the centre of development.
How can we help you, Product Owner?
Our team typically works with our client’s Product Owner and helps prioritize the backlog and estimate the workload of different features. We respect your knowledge and product vision and we add value on that by helping you build the product development roadmap in a way that enables growth.
We bring design into the processes and into product development in the form of Visual Design, UI, UX and Service Design. We bring your end-user to the very centre of product design and technical development to make sure that none of your efforts goes to waste. We can be your outsourced design team if you already have technical development nicely set up. We can help with technology too, so you can sleep your nights well.
4. The Client’s Favorite Person
In startups, everyone is usually involved in sales. You utilize everyone’s networks and contacts to the fullest. Yet you still need a person to take ownership of delivering and taking care of the clients. This is the Client’s Favorite Person - their primary point of contact in your company.
What does the Client’s Favorite Person need in order to succeed in their role and help the company grow? It depends on how far along you are with your plans for the future. Have you thought about who is your ideal client? How about growth trajectory? There are multiple questions that founders should answer before hiring a salesperson to the team - or you can let the salesperson take full responsibility. And when I say full responsibility, I mean full responsibility with clear and broad mandates to dictate how this part needs to be done.
Sometimes marketing can be dropped partly to this role, but really, don’t. Marketing is a whole different story and focus, and if it’s not a full-day job, it’s a half-day job at least. You need a skilled growth-hack minded full-stack marketer for that.
How can we help you, Client’s Favorite Person?
We can help you with Service Design particularly. We utilize methods from the Service Design stack to recognize client pain-points in different phases of working with you, and then we optimize. As the salesperson, you’re often responsible for forwarding client feedback to the team and that makes you somewhat responsible for your clients’ user experience. We can help you with that, so you can focus on really shining in your role.
Why not hire the whole team at once?
The idea of having your very own in-house product development team is intriguing. Think of all the committed, talented people working on your product full-time, loving every minute of it! Seriously, what could go wrong?
Well, it’s expensive. What’s more, hiring in a hurry can turn into double the expense as you recruit and onboard unfit hires and then do it all over again. Not to mention you lose time. It often takes a bit of time to get your culture and product to the phase where new people can be taken on board with ease. And we all know that in startups, you have to move fast.
Before your product or service is ready for the market, it needs to be tested, iterated and sometimes pivoted. You can find pains in your clientele that you weren’t even aware of. It takes a resilient character to be able to handle the uncertainty of a startup and still be able to deliver 110% every day. That’s why you need to choose carefully.
When you find the perfect fit for your team, the unicorn-like full-stack developers who also design don’t come for free. What’s more, they might leave. There are always takers for great doers, especially the unicorns. Your top talent may want top salary or a stake in the company. Chances are, if you get them to settle for too little, they won’t be very invested emotionally and they’ll only stick around until something better appears in their line of sight.
In many cases, it’s simply not worth the risk to hire the whole development team in the very beginning. You can lower the risk by first working with an outsourced development team that fills in where you need it and complements your existing skillsets. Later on, once you secure more funding, you can happily hire more people with certainty and continue to nurture the company culture.
How can we help startup teams?
We want to make your product shine bright like a diamond and do whatever it takes to get it there. We’ve worked with startups a lot, and we’ve found quite a few good working practices along the way. We’re an end-to-end digital agency, meaning we can help our clients from the drawing table all the way to deployment and maintenance. Or any part in between.
We can be your outsourced product development team
Having an outsourced product development team allows your founding team to focus on funding and expanding the business, knowing that product development is being handled with expertise. We provide you with developers and designers, and if you need help with your digital strategy, we’ll be right with you.
Being your outsourced team means we work closely together with you. We’ll compile a development roadmap and backlog with you, and we continuously make sure we are on the same page and understand your goals. You’ll always know what’s been done and what’s going to happen next. It’s your product, after all, we’re not going slowly back into a cave with it and emerge nine months later with something that looks like your idea a little bit.
Often in a new partnership, we start with a lighter project to ensure that cooperation runs smoothly. We want to add the most value to your business and often it’s easier to start a new partnership with one or two sprints to see if we’re a true match. We believe in openness, honesty and complete transparency.
We can bring complementary skills to your needs
If you don’t need a whole team, just parts of it, we’re right on board with that. We can provide you with expertise from design and engineering all the way to content design and digital strategy.
Outsourcing parts of the team can be a starting point to move later to the outsourced development team. It’s also an easy, lower-risk way of seeing how cooperation works.
We can consult to help solve your specific problem
We can advise you on questions regarding your strategy, technology, design or DevOps. We also have a house full of talented people who work with business development, content design and project producing. From our roster, you may find someone who can add value to different parts of your startup in different phases of growth. Don’t hesitate to ask!