How do Startup Founders Hire the Right People

Some of the biggest decisions a startup founder will ever make is who to hire when they can no longer do everything on their own. Naturally, hiring people for a startup is easier said than done. Not just anybody can succeed as an employee at a startup. They need to have what people call a startup mentality or startup energy.

What does that mean exactly? Dennis Kayser, the CEO and co-founder of Forecast once told me that more than anything, he looks for “people that have that hunger.” He added: “If you’re not of the mindset that you want to win, then you don’t belong on my team.”

It’s hard to disagree with Dennis on this point. Startups are often fighting to win market share, often against more established companies. This requires people who are willing to fight and want to win. That’s why Dennis said: “We have to find people that are willing to go into battle.” 

Of course, finding the right employees doesn’t always have to be that dramatic. I’ve come to find a difference in energy between the people who are fit to work at a startup and those who aren’t. Does a person bring energy or take it away? Is someone going to be asking questions or offering solutions? Often, founders can discover during the hiring process whether a candidate has the right energy or not.

Not surprisingly, Dennis is a big believer in following his gut when hiring executives at Forecast. He also talked to me about “testing people for oomph.” That’s obviously a rather abstract concept. But it relates to finding someone with the right energy and the right mentality to be at a startup where things can often seem like an uphill battle.

“Do you have something that’s really hard to describe but you have something that makes you stand out as a character? Are you a really driven, ambitious person that wants to get there and wants to get into the weeds and wants to win?”

Those were the questions that Dennis seeks to answer when trying to find someone with a startup mentality. He’s absolutely right because having drive and ambition are practically prerequisites for a job in a startup. This is because working for a startup is more than just a job, which is something I’ve heard from many founders over the years.

For example, Larry Talley, the CEO and co-founder of Everyware, told me that being at a startup is more of a grind than a job. In fact, Larry hesitates to hire anyone from the corporate world unless they also have startup experience and understand that it can be a grind that requires a certain mentality.

“You might’ve been hired for marketing, but you’re helping out as a project manager on the tech team. To have somebody that’s able to deal with that and not be like ‘Oh, no, that’s not my job description.’”

Larry’s example is one that I’m sure most founders have encountered. That’s why founders have to be sure that when they hire someone, that person is ready for the grind, ready to wear multiple hats, and ready to do whatever it takes to win. This is exactly what people mean when they talk about having a startup mentality.

More insight from founders like Dennis and Larry on topics like hiring and many more can be found in the book Midstage Momentum. The book contains first-hand advice from dozens of startup founders who have been there and done that.