The People You want
The Good Startup Employee Checklist
A good startup employee is (assuming we're talking techies, here):
- flexible with hours
- quick to learn and adapt
- willing to do the quick-n-dirty thing on occasion
- a jack of all trades
The GREAT Startup Employee Checklist
A great startup employee is all of the above, plus:
- good at documenting
- good at recruiting and mentoring like-minded people through your code
- capable of writing or talking to customers without alienating them entirely
- capable of liaising with non-technical partners and customers
- inhabited by the same convictions for your concept as the founder
- fun to work with and transpiring enthusiasm
- contagious, capable of communicating to a team all of the above
- a stellar programmer or technologist in at least a few areas
- interested in much more than just the technical aspects that relate to your startup
- an employee who will stay there and help you create a team, a workplace and a culture
How to Find Them
A few hiring (and general) tips for startups. Maybe a bit off-topic with regard to the question, but it seems to fit what we discuss. (Otherwise let me know and I'll remove all that).
DON'T Believe resumes & DON'T Solely on Personality
Probably not your case, as you're technical, but I've met a lot of startup founders with little to none technical backgrounds who just hire people purely based on compatibility with their personality and/or because "they look fine" on paper. A guy you meet might be very nice and show a positive and can-do attitude, but cripple your system for years. Still run them through some questions (have someone help you to get a minimum checklist of technologies or questions to ask) or ask a technical friend to give some feedback). Don't necessarily waste money paying for online-testing services though. I don't think they really are worth it.
This is a true story: I passed interviews for 3 startups last year when looking for side-projects, and all 3 wanted to hire me after one interview and just a chat and a look at my resume. Even though I had given them plenty of material in advance and had presented myself very well and had already had a look at their business and platform to directly provide some helpful tips, that seemed way too naive to me.
Get (Affordable) Help from Knowledgeable People
As a startup founder or early employee, you need to attract the attention and help from your network (and build and extend it). A lot of people will be more than happy to give a helping and can be invaluable for little to no cost. But do not consider that all help is welcome, free or otherwise. And beware of complete crooks - without becoming paranoid though.
DON'T Waste Money
This sounds like a given but it always astonishes me what people will waste money on. Goodies, super-cool hardware and gear, expensive server hosting plans, expensive source repository hosting plans, baits from startup "conventions" and events, etc...
You don't need all that. Or better said, you need all that, but not at overpriced rates.
A lot of repository hosting providers offer free or discounter plans for startups. A lot of server hosting providers are more affordable and can accommodate your needs or give you a pay-for-what-you-use plan.
DON'T Accept All the Offers and Contracts
At the beginning you make money, but believe me: you're better off keeping a low profile and eating pastsa a few weeks or months longer (maybe even failing, at first) than accepting contracts that will cripple you, prevent you from getting other pmes, and then eat a steady and possibly growing amount of resources (time, people, hardware, etc... -> money) for little added financial return over time, until your eventually go under or are exhausted.
This one depresses me: negotiation and bargaining is part of business. And I keep telling that to people who STUDIED commerce and finance while I am the technical one.
Accept it, don't roll over, and don't be afraid to ask for more. You know what? You're new, and even like that you probably won't ask enough at first.
Better be bold and ask for too much and look a tad nuts and THEN make a new offer than to be taken advantage off. Don't be afraid of looking nuts or ridiculous: if people want to make business with you, they will want to make business with you!! They won't turn you down (except if they are crazy proud idealists as well, but then maybe you should walk away from them).
That implies negotiating salaries as well. Sorry. Don't be an ass though: remember what I said about trying to keep your good employees. And remember that salaries are meant to evolve, especially when you are tight at the beginning but show potential afterwards. Maybe it's best to not overestimate crazy investments like a new super-server and to not underestimate the value of the people you already have. You might only realize it once they're gone!
Beware of Your Own Enthusiam
It's your project and baby. You have a motivated team who believe in it, and in your vision. It's awesome, and keep it up like that and don't let it go.
Nonetheless, do not get carried away and start making non-sense assumptions. I want to bludgeon the founders and directors of the startups I work with when they tell me "I think that..." or "most people (I know)..." or "our users...".
We don't care, and so doesn't market research and the userbase (or more precisely: the absent or disgruntled userbase). Your early users are here because they like your product, beware of too sudden changes.
Run hallway testing sessions, for christ-sake!! It costs nothing to grab 10 to 15 people, preferably not always the same ones and not all people you know, and to have them try a short prototype or look at 2 different wireframes to ask them "what do you think?" or "which one works better for you (and why)?".
Beware of the same enthusiasm when you hire people: it's very easy for candidates to catch up on that and simply mirror your behavior to fuel your sympathy. But it doesn't prove anything about them, apart from a slightly conning nature and some people skills, but not sure they're the right kind...