How to make the first non-technical hire for your startup

two businessmen shaking hands

When first starting out, many early-stage tech startups consist of founders, technical co-founders, and maybe a few software engineers. Some also prioritize a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to oversee the technical team and product development. With the exception of those lucky startups who have non-technical founders, most don’t employ a non-technical full-time role until later in the game. That said, startups eventually need someone to perform a combination of customer support, sales, marketing, growth, office management, operations, and HR functions. And while technical talent abounds in Silicon Valley, finding people who know how to juggle the rest can be a challenge, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Unique to fast-growing startups, this role requires a specific set of skills for which there is not a deep talent pool. So it can be daunting to track down the right person to fill it. 

Which qualities should I prioritize when making my first non-technical hire?

If your founding team members are limited to startup founders and technical partners with engineering backgrounds, then making your first hire for a non-technical role is critical. This person will have a significant impact on your company’s culture and success as you grow. They’ll also spend a good amount of time with the founders, and learn directly from them. In many ways, this is the most important consideration when hiring for this role. Technical skills are essential to an early stage startup. But emotional intelligence and relentless flexibility can help set successful startups apart from the rest. The person you select needs to be a dynamic and adaptable team member, eager to seize the learning opportunity in front of them. They also need to act as an extension of the founders, both externally and within the company.

When hiring for this role, focus on mission-oriented people who exhibit a willingness to do whatever it takes to drive the company forward. In the short-term, this person will also play a critical function in the company’s daily operations. So they’ll need to be quick learners with a keen attention to detail who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

Where do I find these MVPs?

In a world of self-starters and freelancers, the talent is there, but you might have to look for it. Consult LinkedIn, social media, and professional meetup networks for referrals from leaders you trust. Attend recruiting events at local universities to capitalize upon entry-level talent. But keep in mind that recent college graduates might require a bit more direction. They might also lack the real world experience needed to fill a role this important. That said, most recent grads are eager to contribute to a growing startup, especially in the era of tech giants like Google, Airbnb, Alibaba, and Amazon. So don’t overlook the potential in this talent pool.  

Another place to consider is the graduating cohort of investment banking or consulting programs. These folks tend to have broad business knowledge, with the added benefit of real world experience. This helps them keep up with the fast pace of startup life.  

Regardless of where you look for applicants, keep in mind that your first non-technical employee won’t have the advantage of a formal training program when they’re first onboarded. That’s because they’ll likely be the ones creating it once they’re hired. It’s important to look for someone who is proactive and can find ways to add value to your company without being told explicitly what to do. Consider the following skill sets and experiences when identifying qualified candidates: extracurricular and group leadership; internships at companies that lack formal structures; successful organization of large-scale events; and in-depth research projects. These accomplishments let you know that a person can manage their time while contributing holistically to a variety of organizations.

Round out your team with a rockstar non-technical hire

Software development is an essential part of any tech startup, especially those in SaaS and ecommerce. A technical person might understand website wireframes, iOS, and the step-by-step process of building a computer model. But you’re going to need more than a software development team if you want your startup idea to succeed. You’ll need people who understand product-market fit and can sell your product. Who can mockup a visually appealing landing page to attract potential customers. Who know how to optimize user experience. And who can land your company’s name in publications like TechCrunch and Hacker News. These non-technical skills will set your business apart from the rest. And they all start with your first non-technical hire. When you make that hire, make it count.

 

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