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  • James

How to Build and Grow Your Dream Team

Must-know tips to increase your company’s headcount – and where to start

Knowing when, and how to grow your team from scratch is a common reality that startup folks face in their entrepreneurial journey. Maybe you’ve spent a year, or two, building and launching your MVP (minimal variable product)—and it’s shown positive financial results and customer success. The next step would be to expand your team. But knowing who to hire, who to contract with, and when it should all happen can be challenging. There are no standard answers here, but there is a general approach that can guide you as you embark to find your perfect hire.

The Sophomore Syndrome

When it comes to hiring, many early stage startups experience what I like to call the “sophomore syndrome”—and I’ve witnessed this first-hand. To put it simply, the sophomore syndrome is when startups spend so much time getting their initial product out the door, but don’t have plans beyond that on how to utilize marketing and communications. Often times, the first year is spent on traction, development and cash burn, and by the time a decision is made to hire new people, spend more on marketing, or other business relations, months have gone by much of the steam is lost, or focused on the wrong things. It’s a catch 22, but definitely not uncommon, and ultimately it’s something that startups need to overcome in order to continue to grow successfully.

Two things to focus on to help combat the sophomore syndrome are acquisition/retention and budget tracking. Acquisition and retention never sleep, so it’s important to build your marketing/growth plan and campaigns in conjunction with your market launch. The plans don’t have to be overly detailed, but they should address the best case and worst case outcomes. Reacting to lower acquisition numbers, or churn, 30-60-90 days later will take far too long to overcome. Also, it’s crucial to track your marketing campaigns and budgets. Ask yourself: What campaigns did you run last year when you launched that saw upward trajectory growth? What worked and what didn’t? How much can you afford to spend based on the outcome? Will those tactics work again? This all ties back into acquisition and retention.

Don’t Be Afraid To Outsource

In general, if you already have a core team—regardless of size—specific positions can be contracted including creatives, developers, marketers and operation-specific professionals on an as-needed basis. Typically, these types of positions have clear definitions and outcomes in terms of their output, and contracting them can be beneficial due to budget, outcome and lifespan of a particular campaign or target project.

Find The Root Of The Business Problem

I often see missteps being made when it comes to hiring the right person for the business problem. For example, a startup that has a problem with acquisition, but good retention, may try to hire a growth marketer. Makes total sense, right? Well that might not be the actual problem at all, just a symptom. What happens is, much like diagnosing yourself on the internet, these startups search for the problem on “Dr. Google”. They then discover that other startups have experienced the same symptoms, and they end up making a hiring decision based on their online findings. In reality, while the acquisition may be part of the problem, it may actually be the messaging, not the mechanism. Misdiagnosing your growth, retention, and everything in between may cause more delays, frustration, and money. Unfortunately, in business (and startups especially), situations like this usually never linear. By the time you’ve identified a potential long-tail problem, it may take additional time and investment that was not accounted in order to address, and solve, the issue. Oftentimes, that added time and investment ends up being crucial to the business. Remember: Get to the root of the business problem first, and hire second.

Know Your Value

In order to find a valuable employee, it’s important to outline the value of your company. Identify what aspects of the company are missing (and what you’re struggling to achieve on your own), and what values you think would greatly enhance your business. Ultimately, value ties into the success of a company’s vision and culture. Someone with a unique set of skills or who adds a different dimension to the team can really expand a startup’s capability in a variety of different ways—and that’s extremely beneficial! Often times, someone who brings that missing value isn’t an employee sought out via a job posting, it’s someone met through networking.

Mix It Up

The success of building a powerful core team falls on having not only a great mix of people—but also the right mix of people. Whether it’s outside help for a small amount of equity, or peer groups, it’s incredibly important to have a team of people who not only understand your specific problems, but who can also create actionable steps to advise on. Without that inside knowledge as to what’s happening as a business, everything else is essentially advice or hearsay, which can lead to confusion and distraction for founders and executives who need to address concerns happening within the company.

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