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The Quick Start Guide to Hiring Your First 13 Employees

August 1, 2022

April 13, 2022

Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and started your company. You know all the things you need — funding, product-market fit, a growth roadmap — and it can be a lot. Now the question is: who exactly do you need to hire in order to put your plan into action?


This is your “quick start guide” to building out your hiring roadmap as you grow from a one-person powerhouse to an actual team. We’ll cover identifying your growth stage, knowing what kinds of roles you’ll need to fill, what those roles do, and exactly who you should hire when.

What growth stage am I in?

If you’ve done your own research on “startup growth stages,” you’ll know that the jury is out on exactly what stages a typical startup “should” go through — or even what those stages look like. So for the purposes of this guide, we’ve created three stages to reflect your biggest concerns and opportunities as you hire: building, defining, and growing.

As a heads up, the titles we’ve given are also loose headers. You may want to title your first operations hire an “operations manager” or a “chief operations officer,” but either way, they’ll handle business operations. Focus on the job descriptions, and feel free to make the titles your own!

Stage 1: Building

At your earliest growth stage, you’re focusing on getting your product ready. You’re still building your product and getting a working, successful MVP is probably near the top of your to-do list.

Your first hires should relate to this goal. You need to build, and you’re crafting more of a level or semi-level team than a complex hierarchy of employees. Your biggest objective at this stage is to hire for a lot at once. You’re looking for flexible and independent employees who can wear a lot of hats and don’t mind covering for tasks that fall outside of their technical area.

Here’s some roles you might consider:

Co-founder

It’s hard to do it all, all the time. If you can find another person who is just as excited and willing to fully commit to your project, it can make your startup journey much smoother. Resist the temptation to find someone who is perfectly aligned with you from personality to skills. A better bet is a teammate who fills in the gaps in your abilities and looks at a problem in a different way.

For instance, if you’re creative, tech-focused, and can program the next big app in your sleep, look for someone who is analytical, business-focused, and can provide hands-on customer service so you can keep coding. Never underestimate the value of having another person with equal investment in your business to help untangle those big, complicated business problems.

Chief Technical Officer

If you’re running a business in the tech space but aren’t a technical founder, — and you don’t have a technical co-founder —, but you’re running any type of business in the tech space, a CTO is crucial. You want someone who has the industry knowledge to help you differentiate your product and who can make big decisions when it comes too tricky technical details, and has the industry knowledge to help you differentiate. Even if they aren’t considered a founder, this person will be a major stakeholder in your business, so look for someone with whom you can build a high level of trust.

Operations Manager

This is a key role, especially if you choose not to partner with a co-founder. Operations include all the day-to-day elements of producing your product. That might include coordinating with manufacturing and warehouse partners or designing the roadmap for adding key features to your software. Look for an operations leader who already specializes in your area or industry, as operations mistakes in the early-stage can be costly.

Engineer

Engineer, developer, builder, maker — odds are, if you’re producing any sort of product, someone needs to make it. Figure out the key elements that your product needs, and then make a note of what roles best contribute to those elements.

Don’t forget to watch this space as you grow! At first, you may only need one person to help share the load, but over time this area is likely going to take up a much larger share of your headcount.

Designer

You may have the best product in the world, but if it doesn’t look good, it’s going to be hard to sell. A designer can help you with everything from product design to packaging to web design and newsletter layout. Early on, this role might double up with basic marketing or developing, two other roles that often involve a level of creativity.

Stage 2: Defining

At this stage, you’re giving most of your attention to making your product stand out. You’re tweaking that all-important product/market fit and zeroing in on who your customer — and competitors — really are. But you’re also deciding what kind of company you want to be and what kind of culture you want to have.

Hires at this stage are likely to become managers and leaders down the line. They’ll have a direct hand in how your customers see your product and how your later employees onboard to the company. You’ve been wearing a lot of hats thus far to get your product out the door, and you’ve had a hand in everything from sales to hiring to production. So your big objective at this stage is to get your time back so you can zero in on the areas you want to devote the most time to and hand off the things that are better left to a specialist.

Here are the key roles you’ll need in order to delegate.

Marketing

There are a lot of different types of marketing. As such, marketers often have one of two focuses — they’re either deep subject experts on a specific marketing approach, or they’re T-shaped marketers who know just enough about several different types of marketing. Early on, you’re likely to want the latter speciality, since they’ll be able to test out multiple marketing streams to see what works best for your product. Aim to hire a marketer before you do a public launch so that you’re ready to promote hard from day one.

Customer Success

While your overall team can offer support to customers, not all will have the necessary skills or time. A customer success agent who is friendly, knowledgeable, and has the time to devote to your customers will help you retain the people you’ve sold to. This, in turn, turns those customers into big fans of your brand, producing free word-of-mouth marketing and attracting new customers... and all because you offered excellent, devoted customer service!

Product Manager

You’ve already been working with a great operations manager, so it’s time to turn your focus to how your business functions as a whole. This is where a strong product manager comes in, helping you develop a strong vision for your products and get your whole team aligned on it. A product manager will help get the development, marketing, and sales teams all moving in the same direction.

Recruiter

Growth is a part of everyone’s job at a small company, but the recruiting process is in itself a full-time job — one with a lot of laws, guidelines, and best practices to keep in mind. Hiring a talent manager now might seem early, but they’ll take a lot of lift and pressure off of you while still helping your business grow. You don’t want to leave this role too late!

Stage 3: Growing

By now, you’ve probably launched your product and you have a functional sales pipeline humming along. It’s time to turn your attention inwards and nurture your company’s culture while bringing on the support you need to keep growing.

These hires are likely coming in as fast as you can get them as you hustle to keep up with the demand for your new product. Agile, dedicated folks ready to jump into the deep end are just what you need.

Chief Financial Officer

The financial side of any business is intense, and the bigger you grow, the more complicated it becomes. A head of finances will help keep you compliant and efficient and can be a big help in maximizing profits. If you’re courting investors or looking to be acquired one day, an in-house executive financial expert can be a huge boon.

Community Manager

If you have a product or service that involves any type of community element (such as shared forums, an industry Slack, or meetups), you need someone to manage that community. This person will moderate the space, plan events, make sure everyone follows guidelines, and keep customer satisfaction high with hands-on interaction.

Office Manager

If you’re working in a physical space, this is a key position. But even if you aren’t, an admin to help handle all the “small” tasks that take up so much time will be more helpful than you realize. This is the person who does everything from planning team retreats to coordinating with your building super. This role has a direct impact on your employee satisfaction.

Sales

You’ll know it’s time to hire a sales rep if:

  • You’ve If you've already made five to ten sales of your product, or
  • You've ever lost a customer because you didn't have the bandwidth to focus on them.

That's your cue that it's time for a full-time sales rep. Early-stage sales reps should be scrappy, creative, and self-led. Some might even help generate leads or manage customer cases themselves, taking even more off of your plate.

Adding to your growing teams

This is also a great time to grow some of the teams you’ve already started. In particular, you’ll want to focus on:

  • Engineering: If you’re product-first, focus on the people creating that product.
  • Sales: One person can’t be expected to make all your sales forever. As you grow, bulk out your team with enough reps to keep up with demand.
  • Marketing: You started with a marketer who could do a little of everything. Now add in experts in specific areas, focusing on the channels that make up the bulk of your results.
  • Recruiting: A team that’s growing fast needs people to help net the best talent, so look for more recruiting experts.

Ready to get started?

As you grow and scale your business, you’ll face a lot of challenges. But with a little help, hiring doesn’t have to be one of them.

No matter who you hire, The Swarm and Ashby are here to make hiring faster, easier, and more effective than ever before for scaling startups. Click the links to learn more and get started with our recruiting tools for early-stage startups.