When founders hire their first senior hire


As a founder, expanding your team comes with mixed feelings. Pride and excitement that you’re on the right track but a little hesitation on whether this new hire would be a good addition to your team. Every hire is an important hire and that’s why hiring your first senior hire, whether an executive or a technical expert, can be a little daunting.

Here are seven tips that can help you make a better decision.

Do: Examine if you are ready to let go

You have been working tirelessly as Finance, Product, HR, and Sales in your startup for the past few years. Suddenly, you have the choice (and cash!) to hire specialists for each of those areas and you have never been so ready. You carefully hire experts for each of these areas. They come in, ready to take your startup to the next level. But in a short while, everyone is frustrated. What happened? Founder withdrawal, that’s what. You are not ready to let go, and you are standing in the way of getting work done.

Tip: Consider a gentler transition. Hire 1 or 2 specialists first while you continue managing other company functions. This gives you the space to adjust to other leaders, learn to take a step back and ease yourself into another level of leadership! 

Do: Embrace diversity

It can be uncomfortable to disrupt a congenial environment, especially in a startup. While homogeneity may feel more natural, running a business effectively requires different perspectives. By focusing on skill, experience, and contrasting opinions during the hiring process, you are more likely to hire for diversity. Not convinced? Think Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg! 

Tip: Steven R Covey summed it up when he said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Don’t: Do an Interview Overkill 

Is consensus necessary? Is it necessary to have multiple rounds of interviews with different interviewers invariably asking versions of the same question? Have you built in veto power into your decision making? Do you have a final decision-maker?
If you are able to answer the above questions satisfactorily, congratulations! You are not over-interviewing due to uncertainty.  

Tip: If you feel that you don’t have enough domain knowledge to interview effectively, don’t drag the interview process. Instead, it’s more effective to work with an advisor or consultant to assist in the interview.  

Don’t: Have FOMO
Have a clear job description. Know exactly what are the hard and soft skills, work experience, personal motivations and network necessary for this role. Separate the critical attributes from the nice-to-have. These filters help you decide who is the best fit for the role. When you try to look for someone with everything as you are worried you will miss out on the perfect candidate, it will be hard to create a realistic hiring process. 

Tip: Lay the foundation well and then, trust yourself. If you have prepared for the hiring, you will know when the candidate is right! 

Do: Hire for what you need, not for what you want. 
I’ll say it again: hire for what you need, not for what you want. Don’t bring on vanity hires. Hiring a data scientist when you don’t have enough data, just because data is trending, is obviously a bad move! Paying salary and benefits for an under-utilized hire can become costly in a blink of any eye.

Tip: Hire opportunistically. Or hire only because it is too painful for the startup to function effectively without that role. If you’re not fully confident, work with an advisor or consultant to figure out the roles you need to fill. 

Do: Guard against bias and false positives 
The first impression is important but for someone hiring, it can also be dangerous. Top universities and top-tier company backgrounds are impressive but they don’t always speak to the skills of the candidate. Balance the assessment with logic and data too; ask the questions that let them demonstrate their practical experience. Go back to the must-have attributes and strive to see beyond the smoke!

Tip: Separate the brand from the candidate so your judgment is not clouded. Ask questions that require them to demonstrate how their experience can be practically applied to your startup. 

Do: Take Control 

When you are new to this process, everyone (yes, everyone!) is going to be giving their opinion. They mean well but having the entire board, investors from various rounds, friends, community, family and your drinks auntie giving advice will be overwhelmed. It’s like having your first baby; everyone has something to say including the very many online experts! Just like parenthood, trust your judgment. You know your business best! 

Tip: Listen to your experts but do not substitute your judgment with their advice. At the same time, carefully examine your motivations if all your trusted advisors are asking you to do the opposite.