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How to Set Up a Damn Good Team for Your Startup?

Updated: Apr 19

Based on my experience, every enterprise requires different types of employees at various stages of its development. During crisis situations, it's important to have employees who can handle stress well, while in a stabilization period, you might need people who can optimize the way of working instead of constantly innovating.

Although every startup is unique, there's a general tendency to look for employees with a disruptive mindset and approach in startups. The idea is that everyone possesses a high degree of daring, openness, and creativity. In this way, innovation can happen quickly and effectively, and the market can be amazed by solutions that no one thought possible. But how do you find these employees, and how do you ensure that you don't get stuck in an endless cycle of innovation without ever bringing a product or service to market?

How to find the right employees for your startup

Most startups have a limited budget and therefore are often unable to hire a specialized recruitment agency or start an extensive recruitment campaign. In many cases, this wouldn't be wise, as it generally isn't the best strategy to find people with an entrepreneurial mentality.

Based on what I've experienced, individuals who have worked for longer periods at larger companies or who have just graduated, often are already too entrenched in the usual ways of working.

The average startup would typically do better to recruit employees who are less biased about how things 'should be'. In this way, they can develop new methods in an innovative way. It goes without saying that certain basic knowledge and necessary skills are essential here.

Avoid beaten paths when looking for a startup team

The advertising agency I founded in 1993 had a peak of 120 employees spread across three countries. To give some examples: our best designer/art director had only studied economics, and the most competent traffic employee - responsible for planning and purchasing - had previously worked at a transport company.

Our top two developers hadn't even completed their studies, and the country manager in Hungary, where we had a branch, had a background in hospitality. Each of them was a specialist in their field, precisely because they didn't know by the book how they 'should' do their work. I myself left school at the age of 16, which I've always considered an advantage. Our ignorance of the 'correct' approach allowed us to do things differently and achieve results that no other agency could match.

How I found my first 30+ employees for my startup

My ambition was to create a city guide with 360-degree panorama photography, allowing you to virtually walk through the streets of Amsterdam. However, this was eight years before Google Street View was launched, so no one knew whether this was achievable and if so, how we could achieve it. At that time, I only had a dream, but no money, knowledge, or network.

One day, I hung a note in the hallway of the university, asking who was interested in working part-time for Quince International. I didn't have a company at that time, but I found the name 'International' attractive.

Three days later, 35 students sat across from me at a table and I presented them with my idea. I then set three conditions:

  1. You work at least one year, two days a week.

  2. You work unpaid.

  3. You bring your own computer because I don't have one.

The following week, I had 30 motivated employees who were willing to develop the first city guide with panorama photos within a year without payment.

For the photography, I approached photographer Tjeerd Vonk, who wanted to become known as the No.1 panorama photographer. For marketing, I asked Jan Schimmel, who wanted to base his graduation project on this project.

Build a large network to find employees for your startup

When I started my first business, I made a series of designs of an interface as I visualized it. All my free time was spent sharing my ideas with anyone who was willing (or not) to listen. I always asked if they could contribute or knew someone who could.

The most intriguing individuals crossed my path and although some couldn't help at that time, they later joined the company.

When looking for the right employees for your startup, it's not effective to sift through hundreds of CVs. It's much more productive to come into contact with the right people through connections. The person recommending someone knows the character of that person and for a startup, mentality is usually much more important than knowledge and skills.

The power of social media in attracting employees for your startup

During my early days, social media platforms were not yet present. However, if I were to start again now and look for staff for my startup, I would fully exploit the possibilities that social media offers. I would use (micro-) influencers to spread a free job vacancy and I would also frequently post messages myself.

Of course, it's crucial to be candid and passionate about your idea. I could never have recruited thirty unpaid employees without my own enthusiasm for the concept. This aspect is just as relevant today and is perhaps the most essential tool to attract the right people.

The importance of culture in attracting employees for your startup

Even if you're working on your startup alone, there's already a culture. For example, you already have ideas about how you want to manage your future team. You might be considering a holacratic model. Also, consider how flexible you can adapt to changes and what you expect from team members.

Another characteristic of the culture within startups is the inherent risk for both the company and the employees. Often the concept has not been tested and insufficient profit can have serious consequences. This requires a certain mindset from the new team members.

If I were to set up a startup again, I would want everyone to be fully aware of becoming damn good at what they do. With this premise, I want to emphasize that I believe that when you undertake something, you should become exceptionally good at it within the shortest possible time. But while you strive to excel at something, it's just as important to do good for your fellow human beings and society. Only then can the startup become a damn good startup.


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