I like to define a startup in a way that goes something like this: A startup in my world is a young company in a new, fast growing and evolving industry that could swing, change or be disrupted very quickly.
The reason that it’s relevant for me to lay out how I define a startup is because this definition is extremely important when considering hiring a team. It is often not as simple as hiring the best person for the job. It’s much deeper and more complicated than a simple contract with leave allowances and a stable income.
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Hiring is tough because it’s like giving your baby (company) away to someone you’ve known for a 45 minute interview.
Here are some problems that might occur for tech startups looking to hire staff
1. Budgets are always tight
Whether you are a VC funded or bootstrapped company, money for staff hiring is always tough to justify. You should be spending time creating a product that can generate revenue. You theoretically shouldn’t be increasing your overheads in a young startup.
2. Top talent is tough to find
Not only is there a perpetual shortage of great, talented and interesting people to hire but it seems like every company is hiring, right now. This is not a problem that is going to go away. As the technology industry in Africa grows, companies are going to be competing more directly for skills. Get used to the fight now, start figuring out what makes you different and exploit that.
3. Culture is hard to build and maintain
When starting a company of any kind, most entrepreneurs have a clear (or sometimes vague) idea of what sort of company they want to build. It is often easy to build that culture with two or three founders who share equally in the office space and decision making. When you hire staff the dynamic shifts and your first 10 to 20 employees will help you mould the culture. You do not get to dictate a company culture, it grows and develops over time and through the influence of the various people you choose to work with.
4. Different people and different roles
I believe that well-rounded technology companies require a mix of skills and people; developers, engineers, marketing, managers and account people. Finding people who fit in to these various roles in relation to the other various roles is extremely difficult. Then adding on the complication of inter-personal relationships, company culture, gender dynamics and the other standard office human resource complications and you now have Mount Everest to climb.
5. The company might not be around in a year from now
If you are honest with yourself and your employees you need to express, out loud, that there is a chance that the company will fail. This level of honesty will buy loyalty from team members who stick around but will spell the end for many of your team. Stability is something that startups can almost never offer but for some reason is something that many developers seem to be looking for right now.
6. Equity value
The stories being told and sold on sites like TechCrunch every day make it seem like everyone is getting rich through their share options. This is not true. For every millionaire startup founder and developer/engineer there are thousands upon thousands who have lost out, are broke and have been screwed by a share option scheme. I haven’t come across many developers who understand how share options work or the potential value. There also are not many companies that are worth the equity they are giving away so liberally.
Share options are meant to be a way for team members to get skin in the game and feel like they are building up their personal worth while they build up the founders. But the sneaky flip-side of this basically spells out cheaper salaries in exchange for share options that are sometimes worthless.
7. Many employees are looking for a stable salary, not a dynamic and risky environment
Risk is something that many entrepreneurs thrive on and live for. However this isn’t a trait that everyone shares. I’ve found it hard to hire staff who are inclined to lean in to risk as I am.
8. You are selling the future, not the work
Selling the future is a difficult task. Selling the future to an engineer or developer is even more difficult because their skill is in the building not in the vision most of the time. But most of the time the vision is what is being striven for.