The Co-Founder & Start-up Hiring [Hire From Your Network]

There’s one thing that we can all agree upon – the start-up market in India has greatly matured. More people want to start companies, more people are backing these companies and more start-ups are building awesome businesses. All true but, where are the people?

Steve Jobs And Steve Wozniak - First Day @Apple
Steve Jobs And Steve Wozniak - First Day @Apple

There’s one thing that every start-up enthusiast needs to know – a great company is only as good as it’s team. OK so, I’m not the first person to say this. For long, seasoned entrepreneurs and VCs have argued that great companies have been created not because of the product (although that is really important) but, because of the people behind it. Just think about Apple. What would it be without the marketing genius (Steve Jobs) or the ingenious engineer (Steve Wozniak)? Apple has had several incredible products but, why have the ones under Steve Jobs’ portfolio been successful? What would Facebook be without Mark Zuckerberg? What would Infosys be without Narayana Murthy? Ask any VC and what they want to know is the team behind your company. All of these people had great teams who helped in building the company.

Having successfully raised a seed round for my start-up – Eduora.com, I set out to look for a team. Contrary to tradition, I didn’t have team prior raising funds but, I did have a prototype. It was my assumption that if the money comes in, the team will too. I learnt about start-ups, VCs and teams just like you are right now – from blogs. The only flaw that I hadn’t considered – all of these blogs were written by Americans, about American start-ups. Most theoretical concepts about start-ups translate well in India too but, people are different. Start-up culture is very mature in the West and more people are willing to be a part of a small company.

Traditionally, you would start a company with a close friend, a classmate or some interesting person you met and became friends with. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were friends. Larry page and Sergey Brin were friends. This was and is the best way to do it. You know the person, how they can be a part of the company and you can work together. The one thing that doesn’t work is if you don’t have that ‘one other friend who is a programmer and likes start-ups’. While many aspects of the Indian start-up space has matured, I’ve noticed that it’s extremely difficult to find good, enthusiastic co-founders. Read that line again.

Anyone can hire ‘a team’ through an advertisement on a website, pay developers for the job and get a product out but, does that qualify as being a ‘good team’? Do you want a team that follows your every rule? Do you want a team that works just for the job? No – you want a team that can tell you they have a great solution to better your product. You want a team that innovates with you and not simply follows a specification. You want a team that wants to be called the founding team.

I began by contacting some friends in the technology sector to find leads for my company but, this ended without any result. Most of them were seniors and unwilling to give up plush corporate jobs to join a start-up. They loved the idea but, not the role. This leads to finding number 1 for entrepreneurs – never try to hire a senior as a co-founder. It made sense to me later that this wouldn’t be feasible for anyone either. A senior member wouldn’t be willing to put the same kind of effort into your company in that, they wouldn’t be willing to write code with you. They would make excellent project managers but, why do you need one if you only want a couple of people in your start-up?

Having tried and failed at finding a genuine co-founder, I came to the decision that I would just hire a team of developers to get started and looked through traditional channels. I just had to get started and find a programmer. The first batch of resumes that came in looked really good for someone like me who had never hired a person before. Well drafted resumes, clear career goals, skills and work experience. A couple of more resumes later, I realized that pretty much every resume looked the same. If all of these people had such good skills, why are they applying for a new job? It appeared as though everyone downloaded a Word template and changed their personal details.

This definitely isn’t the right way to hire people for your start-up. Resumes are of little use to start-up entrepreneurs. You need to meet the person and understand their personality, whether they actually do want to be a part of a start-up or whether they just want a job until they find a better one (this is usually the case) and whether they align with your product.

However, I did manage to find one person for the job. Clearly, traditional channels for hiring at a start-up do not work. After much research, I’ve found a couple of interesting points that seem like much better approaches to start-up hiring.

1. Hire From Your Network

Talk to people you know. Ask them whether they know someone who can fit into your company. You really don’t want a resume. You want a profile. Ask for recommendations and sit down for coffee. Don’t interview. Talk to your candidate and check whether you can work together. Clearly set forth your intentions, your compensation and try to understand their motivations and career goals before you offer them a job.

2. Participate in Start-up Events

The best approach to finding someone for your start-up is to let someone find you. Participate in industry events, talk to people and generally ask them whether they or anyone they know would be interested in working with you. This works well as they’re at the event because they have similar interests as you.

3. Continue to Build Your Business

It’s sometimes really difficult to get people into your company until it’s a little ahead of the start-up stage. If you continue to work hard at building your company with your current resources, you can build a brand that will help you attract talent. This isn’t the solution you wanted but, it’s the only way to get really good people if you don’t manage to find them otherwise.

If you’re a start-up entrepreneur, I highly recommend working hard towards building your team before you build your product. Do you have any other tips to offer? Consider sharing them in the comments section.

[Guest article by Nagarjun Palavalli, founder of Eduora.com. He can be reached at nag@eduora.com. Image credit]

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