Team building in a startup: how to attract the right people to the project?

Team building in a startup: how to attract the right people to the project?
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash
“Choose the first 10 employees very carefully, as they determine the next 100” E. Brickman, Gruntwork

Man is not omnipotent. And no matter how talented and brilliant the founder and developer of a startup is, it is unlikely that they will reach great heights on their own. A team is needed; ideally, a well-coordinated professional dream team. But we know that the ideal does not exist. Fortunately, many proven ways will allow one to get as close as possible to that perfection. So, how to choose the right people for the team? Let’s figure it out further.

If you are ready to find people and create a team, this is a clear positive sign that your project is developing. The very first thing one needs to do is start with a clear understanding of exactly what kind of people you need on your team.

So, you know the purpose and goals of your startup, and you have a plan. You also know your financial capabilities. Next, you need to clearly define the functions that you will definitely keep for yourself (and your partner, if there is one), as well as those that you are ready to delegate to others or those that you will not be able to perform for various reasons at a high professional level. After that, define the second group of functions. It is worth separating the most important ones that the future members of your team will handle and those that can be outsourced.

Remember that 65% of business failures are related to problems in the team. The fastest way to kill a startup is to make the wrong hiring decision. Because the success of the company directly depends on how well the team works together. That is a fact that many entrepreneurs underestimate. Building the right team takes TIME, and you shouldn’t rush it.

What should a successful startup team look like?

  • It is created by identifying people with unique professional skills, people who are close in spirit and outlook, as well as a desire to go the “extra mile” for the company.
  • The startup team must trust the startup founder, respect their colleagues, be able to adapt, be creative, and sometimes even be risky in their way of thinking.
  • It must have common values. That is highly important because technical skills can be quickly taught, but it is almost impossible to change a person’s worldview, their attitude to life, and other people.
  • A successful team is diverse: it must contain people with different experiences, skills, and personal qualities, which will compensate for the weaknesses of some team members with the abilities and experiences of others and also provides a diversity of ideas and points of view.
  • Motivation and responsibility: each team member must be motivated to achieve the team’s goals and feel important in the work process. And also – to be responsible for one’s role and be ready to bear the direct consequences of one’s mistakes.
  • Effective leadership: the team should not have a formal, but a true leader who knows how to motivate, manage and guide the team to achieve a common goal. Also, the team is more effective when it feels supported by the company and approved by the management. Of course, this will not always be the case, but in most cases, it should be.

What should a team NOT be like?

  • A team should not be built around the same type of people or have the same experience and skills. That can lead to a narrow outlook, lack of creativity, and loss of new ideas and solutions that can provide a competitive advantage.
  • In addition, the team should not be conflicted or possess a negative perception of reality. Negativity and conflict can lead to reduced productivity, loss of motivation, and mistrust between team members. Team members must trust each other and be willing to work together to achieve a common goal.
  • Also, the team should not be under-motivated or undisciplined. Lack of motivation can lead to low productivity and poor quality of work, while indiscipline can lead to disrupted schedules and project delays.
  • In addition, the team of employees should not be too crowded – this can lead to complexity in management, reduced productivity, and increased time needed for communication and effective management.
  • Also, the team should not be too dependent on one team member, as this can lead to difficulties if that team member leaves the project. It is better if the team shares its knowledge and expertise among all its members.

Qualities of potential workers that are worth paying attention to

Professionalism. Everything is apparent here – it’s the basics. After all, hiring the wrong people leads to the depletion of company resources like wages, poor business performance, and time spent training staff for work. Hiring the wrong people can delay the company’s operations and put extra strain on the rest of the team for unfinished tasks. That can lead to anxiety and disinterest among other team members, not to mention the negative impact on business in the form of delays and reduced productivity.

Desire to work. They do not sit back and count on work but are active, do the job, bring benefit to the company, and rejoice together in its success. The desire to learn and research is also welcome, but everything should be in moderation because your startup is not a school or a university; it is a place to implement and develop acquired skills.

Positive attitude. Look for positive people! Hiring a positive and enthusiastic candidate can keep your team morale high and deliver good results. You should be aware of candidates with negative personality traits, especially considering the validity of complaints and slander about previous work.

Communication skills: the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients, to freely express one’s thoughts, which allows building healthy relationships in the team and avoiding misinterpretation of data, etc. Having a sense of humor will not be superfluous because times can be difficult, and humor can lift the mood and reduce the stress in the team.

Punctuality is also important because the ability to adhere to schedules and deadlines is crucial in business. And also discretion – the ability to maintain confidentiality and not disclose information concerning other people, to observe ethics in behavior.

And finally, some advice for the head of a startup:

When building a successful and effective team, forget your ego. After all, you need to surround yourself with people who have more experience than you in certain areas; people who can tell you “no” and allow themselves to disagree with your views. You should welcome criticism and disagreement because that’s what drives the company forward. Never take it personally. Do not be offended, and do not defend yourself. Differences and contradictions can be a momentous propeller for reaching a well-thought-out decision; it is critical to be open to other points of view and ready for dialogue and discussion. But you should make the final decision.

When choosing employees, keep in mind that work in a startup is very different from work in an already promoted company, where there is particular stability and measured rhythm. So working in a startup is not for everyone: some will find the opportunity exciting and energizing, but others will find it too stressful and risky. Therefore, it is vital to understand the internal readiness of a potential member of your team – what they expect, what they are ready for, and what they are not.

Speak, communicate, listen. Of course, you can trust professional recruiters in the matter of finding specialists for you. But YOU, as a leader and inspirer, should assemble YOUR team. While it’s vital that the employees you hire for your startup have the right skills, it’s equally important that their attitudes and behaviors also align with your company’s mission. Be sure to ask behavioral questions during the interview, such as:

– How do you set priorities in your daily life?

– What is your greatest achievement?

– What goals did you set for yourself at your last place of work?

– What angered you the most at your last place of work?

– What is the biggest challenge you faced in your career, and how did you respond to it?

Give preference to the so-called “universals” – employees who can combine and perform several roles in your company and will be ready to take on new projects as needed. Startups, as a rule, grow and change quickly, so the team must be dynamic and ready for change and creativity, and not seek peace, repetitive actions, and stability.

A common mistake of novice startups is to attract people to the team based only on personal friendships and not their professional skills. Such mistakes can become an obstacle to the success of a startup. After all, to make effective business decisions, it is extremely important to hire the right people who can make professional and balanced decisions, according to their qualifications. That improves the startup’s chances of success in the long term and minimizes unnecessary costs and possible emotional problems in the team. It is better to have both: good friends and a good team than to risk losing both.


Remember the quote from the beginning: “Choose your first 10 employees very carefully because they determine the next 100”. It is true because the first employees of your business should be people who will set the tone for the culture of the entire company and who will be the first ambassadors of your brand. So be sure you find the right people and don’t hire someone just because they’re available.

These first 10 (probably) people should help you lay a solid foundation for your startup; they’ll go through fire and water with you, be with you through the ups and downs, and help you turn your vision into reality. And if you choose them correctly, you may create an incredible team that will reach new heights and become your dream team.