What to consider when building your core team

One of the most important decisions a startup founder will make is the first few employees they hire. It’s a significant milestone for a founder as these first followers are crucial for turning a concept into a living, breathing business. As each new hire is made, they impact everything – the team, culture, product, employer brand, and ultimately the performance of the business. 

To ensure your hiring is purposeful and adds real values to your startup, below are four things to consider before you hit Enter on that job ad.

1. Identify the gaps within the founding team

It’s important to reflect and assess the capability gaps in your founding team, which, in turn, will help you define the roles required to hire for in the core team. Your subsequent hires should complement the existing skill set.

Below are several ways you can identify your capability gaps and weaknesses:

  • Using a third party to facilitate the session if possible,
  • Applying frameworks such as Business Model Canvas to identifying skill gaps compared to your activities,
  • Conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine the pros and cons of filling the gaps.

2. Determine how to fill the gaps

Once you've finished the first step, start building a hiring roadmap that underpins your startup’s goals, strategy and vision. Identify whom you need to hire to help you hit these goals and growth targets. List out the skills and knowledge you think are required.

When building the core team, founders tend to focus too much on the technical skill gaps that exist within the founding team. Unsurprisingly, the first few hires are typically developers, engineers or CTOs. However, there remain five other aspects that will add more value to a startup and should also be considered: soft skills, personality-job fit, generalist skills, a mix of background and a growth mindset. 

Soft skills

The top soft skill that emerges from our discussions with founders is the ability to work collaboratively and cohesively in a team, coupled with effective communication. Communication skills also extend to the ability to provide clarity, particularly as a startup grows. Ben Smit, co-founder of Teamgage, reinforced this point by stating, “If you bring people on who cannot get to the point or provide clarity, it can be time-wasting and not valuable.”

Personality-job fit

From a personality perspective, your first few employees should have the  self-discipline and the drive to succeed. This is often tied to conscientiousness – one of the big five personality traits. It’s also important to consider their ability to handle the stress that exists as part of the startup life.

Some founders believe that empathy in a team fuels connection, collaboration, morale and resilience. It can also help build a better understanding of the customer’s needs.

Generalist skills

From a competency perspective, there are benefits to be had from hiring flexible generalists with a great breadth of skills. 

Some founders specifically look for generalist skills in the early days as they believe in the need to go beyond a job description. Further, role agility is beneficial as new starters are often thrown into the deep end to navigate the chaos without supervision. No matter the roles, employees are still required to pivot quickly, solve problems on the go, branch out into different areas and get things done.

A mix of backgrounds

Most founders agree that hiring people with non-startup backgrounds is not disadvantageous and that there is value in diversity and balance.

Individuals with a corporate background bring a level of structure and process they could apply to the startup. They also have more experience and knowledge of what best in class looks like for a big organisation. When a startup is selling to corporate customers, individuals with a corporate background could also have a level of empathy and understanding of the customers’ pain points and frustration.

A growth mindset

It pays to look for individuals who demonstrate a growth mindset and transition into a startup with the intention and belief that they will learn and develop. Those with a growth mindset also have greater openness and resilience to bounce back and move on from mistakes and failures (which is very much the norm in a startup). Some founders also believe that a growth mindset will help startup employees adapt more easily to working with the uncertainties of commercialisation and implementation of new technologies.

3. Find the right channels

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start your recruitment process.

Hiring is an investment of your effort and time. You need to be realistic with the time required to find the right talent, which is estimated to be at least 35 hours; from preparation to screening, interviews, administration and communication with candidates. 

Founders often use a number of channels to recruit talent, including personal networks, recruiters and job boards such as Seek and LinkedIn. There are benefits in using a combination of channels for this purpose. 

We'll break down each of these below.


A majority of founders still enlist recruiters’ help not only in finding but also vetting talent for their startups. This is largely the case for seeking software engineers and developers, given the increasing demand and skill shortage facing the Australian tech sector.

If there are better things you can invest your time and effort in, reach out to a recruiters who specialise in recruitment for startups.

Networking events

Networks remain most founders’ number one channel and preferred method to source talent for their core team. These may be in the form of professional networks, family and friends circles, networking events and meetups.

Take the time to expand your circles, if not for finding talent then at least for practising your networking skills. Be more proactive in nurturing the relationships you already have.

Customer communities

One emerging – and rather unconventional – trend is sourcing talent from within the customer communities. If you have a customer or expert community helping to test your product, it's worth tapping into it. The most obvious benefit is that these individuals are rather familiar with your product.

Job boards

Most founders still use a combination of traditional job boards such as Seek and LinkedIn to find talent for their startups. To get the most from these job boards, make sure you clearly articulate your goals, the foundation of your startup and what you're looking for from your new hires.

4. Work on your hiring process

It’s important to add structure to your hiring process to provide a better candidate experience and minimise the impact of mis-hires.

How to create an effective hiring process

Your potential employees need to be well aware of the environment they are walking into. Early-stage startups are often chaotic and full of uncertainties. You should therefore manage their expectations during the recruitment process by being completely transparent.

A hiring process should incorporate both technical and behavioural assessments, as well as formal and informal elements, pending the types of roles you’re hiring for.

Below are some tips you can try to improve your current hiring process:

  • Utilise structured interviews and psychometric assessments to evaluate candidates’ personality-job fit
  • Detail each stage of the candidate experience; make sure the candidate is at the heart of each step, and there are clear and regular communication
  • Set measurable criteria for each stage; be clear on your deal-breakers
  • Have open conversations with candidates on what they should expect upon joining
  • Gather feedback on each stage of the process so you can continually refine it
  • Automate the administration so you can focus on value-added activities
  • Work on your employer brand and make sure your vision, purpose, values and culture are clearly articulated throughout the process.

How to build a diverse team

Research has proven the importance of diversity in unlocking innovation, driving growth and building high-performance teams. Diversity – be it gender, race or ability - is key to boosting a company’s joint intellectual potential. A diversity of thought and skill sets, in particular, will help early-stage startups succeed.

Currently, a lack of diversity still exists within certain talent pools, particularly within the engineering space. Possible causes may be:

  • Candidates’ lack of self-confidence, or own perception of barriers that prevent them from having a go
  • The conditions of the roles, e.g. no flexible or remote working arrangements
  • Unclear communication of the workplace culture and values, thus lacking inspiration.

Below are a few ways you can addresses these causes and work on building a diverse workforce:

  • Check your recruitment process for biases that may stifle diversity
  • Clearly articulate your efforts in achieving diversity within the team; encourage candidates to overcome their perceived barriers
  • Communicate your startup’s culture in all fronts to help candidates see themselves fit in with the rest of the team
  • Allow for remote working, where possible, so as to widen your access to talent who may not live where your startup is based.

Want more information on finding the right people for your startup? Download this free study for further insights into how founders at Stone & Chalk have successfully recruited for their businesses.