I originally published this post on thinkgrowth.org.
In the early days of a startup, the only thing that matters is growth. It’s a matter of life and death (as you know already), so when it comes to hiring, you reasonably assume that all of your hires should directly contribute to that growth. If you’re in the software business, that means engineers, marketers, and sales reps: they build the features your customers need, create demand for your product, and close new customers. Their impact on growth is obvious: why would you need anybody else? Hire as many of them as you can — it’s a no-brainer.
But what about other roles that are integral to your long-term success? In most cases, the default strategy is to wait until you can no longer function without them. This makes sense for some roles (hiring too quickly can be even more problematic than hiring too slowly), but for certain roles this is inadequate. I always ask the experienced entrepreneurs I meet about what they’d do differently in hindsight, and there’s a recurring theme around “the hires they waited too long to make”. Three key roles emerged from these discussions:
first data analyst
They all had reasons not to make these hires at the time: they didn’t see an obvious return on investment, didn’t feel a sense of urgency, or weren’t easily finding great candidates. In retrospect, they regarded these hiring delays as critical mistakes and consistently urged me to be more deliberate about hiring for these roles. At first, I was skeptical: I wanted my company to be efficient, focused, and nimble. Hiring for (what I considered) unnecessary roles sounded like the opposite of what I should do.
Yet in the end, the experience of dozens of seasoned entrepreneurs outweighed my uninformed, naive opinion, and I filled these roles relatively early with foundational hires. This decision proved to be excellent — and I’ll try to convince you to do the same.
"The earliest hires are critical to a team’s future identity, as this is the time when the culture takes shape."
- Ruth O'Brien, Customer Support Manager, Intercom
Front employee #9 (and #27)
Create and maintain the infrastructure to collect all the data your company needs.
Connect that data with the tools that need it; for example, sending contract value to your customer success tool, sending lead data to Salesforce, etc.
Build reports and dashboards for each team to track their progress, be more autonomous, and make data-driven decisions.
Run ad-hoc analyses to inform decisions where data is crucial; for example, pricing, onboarding, etc.
You feel like every team should be in charge of their own data.
You’re unsure of the value a data analyst will provide or how to measure it.
It doesn’t look like a full-time job (yet).
With an analyst on board, every team can focus on their core expertise while leveraging data.
Dashboards and reports help create transparency across the company: everyone knows how the company and individual teams are doing in terms of key KPIs.
They serve as a support function to whomever needs it. It’s not fair to ask your teams to be data-driven if you don’t give them the means, and the data analyst is the first step in this direction.
Their work has high leverage: for example, putting them in charge of funnel optimization or pricing has an impact that is proportional to the entire company’s output.
If you wait until it’s obvious that you need one, it’s too late: it’ll take months before they get the infrastructure in place to start working with your data.
Front employee #11 (before customer success, customer support, and marketing)
Onboard new employees, measure and improve employee happiness, implement employee policies (PTO, parental leave, etc.), and administer payroll and benefits.
Find new office space, manage office facilities and vendors, and order office supplies.
Handle accounts receivable/payable and help teams with various administrative tasks.
Plan company offsites, customer events, and team-building events.
At Front, our Operations Manager even handled customer support before our first customer support hire (employee #16).
I think most CEOs understand it’s a key hire but feel bad about making that hire very early (shouldn’t we be handling these responsibilities on our own?).
It’s hard to know what the ROI of employee happiness will be, as it’s something that only becomes visible when it’s missing.
The CEO can focus on running the company instead of spending time on the nuances of the day to day.
You can hire someone without a lot of experience as long as he or she is organized, bright, and has good people skills. This hire should be affordable for any startup even at an early stage.
Employee well-being and happiness is priceless. No one can give their best when they’re unhappy.
If you find the right person, you’re actually filling five positions at once: human resources, office manager, finance/accounting, executive assistant, and customer support.
Front employee #19
Build and grow the pipeline of great candidates for your team.
Coordinate the entire hiring process — from first touch to offer letter.
Train the team on how to hire — interviewing, referrals, etc.
Establish and grow your recruiting brand.
You’re not sure about how much you’ll grow in the coming months, so you doubt you actually need a recruiter.
You’ve been told so many times that recruiting should be the CEO’s #1 job.
If you need help on recruiting, you think an external agency can do the job just as well.
Having an in-house recruiter is more economical than working with agencies. At 3 hires per year, assuming a 30% hiring fee for an agency, you’ve already made a profit.
Time savings (similar to your operations hire). Our recruiter has literally freed up over a fourth of my time. Tally up how much of your calendar is spent on recruiting!
An in-house recruiter can work with your team to build hiring processes and a strong referral engine. Our recruiter insisted on leveraging referrals as much as possible, and it’s paying off big time. Today, 52% of our team is coming from referrals from our own team, which means huge savings on agency finders fees, better retention and expectations, etc.
After reaching product-market fit, the most impactful thing for a startup is hiring the best people. It’s critical to have someone internally who’s dedicated to that.
Of course every startup will have different factors that contribute to your hiring priorities, so the time to make these hires might not be today for you. But whenever you have the breathing room, and your role is to know that you have this breathing room, go and get them. You will not regret it!