Founders: Your Success Is A Function Of Your First 5 Hires

If you’ve started a new business, or are thinking of doing so, there are no shortage of books, courses and coaches available to tell you what to focus on in those critical early years. 

I would encourage you to talk to 10 founders, especially those that have done it more than once. Ask them what is most important to get right in those early days. I think you are likely to hear one message rise above the others: 


For scaled-up companies, hiring excellence is mission-critical. It determines whether you win or lose in your key markets. For earlier stage startups, it is nothing short of life or death. Even if you are an exceptional entrepreneur with a brilliant idea, a bad early hire (or even more, a bad cofounder decision) can tank you from the start.

There are many reasons why founders make bad talent decisions early on. There are three that rise to the top:


As an early-stage founder, you are constantly selling your vision to everyone around you—especially yourself!  So when you meet people who might potentially join forces with you, it is tempting to blast them with the same pitch that rings in your ears every day. 

When you start a conversation this way, you are creating psychological obstacles to your ability to vet those early hires. It is quite difficult to shift energy in this way. You are also (ironically) turning off the highest performers. They hear pitches like this every day, and it can start to sound desperate. If you have the courage to learn about the person first, and let them know you have a selection process, you will actually become more attractive to these top performers. This doesn’t mean jumping into an interview in the first conversation, but it does mean communicating that you have a selection process once you see that there’s a potentially interesting match.


You have so many priorities as an early-stage founder. When you finally land on someone who can give you leverage, it is tempting to sign them up as quickly as possible so that you can get back to doing your day job. But hiring is your day job. It’s your most important job. 


We have spoken to hundreds of founders about their journeys, and the early regrets and mistakes. When we talk about early hiring mistakes, we often hear something akin to “I had to take what I could get.” Even those who believe strongly in themselves and the power of their vision may harbor some insecurity that you must earn the right to top talent by hitting certain milestones. 

Not true. The world is full of incredibly talented individuals who are eager to jump in on the “ground floor.” It’s your job to find them, and this means (again) having the courage to ask people questions, from a place of deep curiosity.

Over the past 10 years, we have trained thousands of leaders and hiring managers in scaled-up companies how to source, evaluate, sell and onboard top performers. We’ve also had the privilege of working with hundreds of early-stage founders and founding duos/trios/teams. In “scaled-up” land, our clients tell us stories about dramatic increases in hiring hit-rates. But with early stage companies, we hear stories about total breakthroughs. It is one of the reasons we have launched Talgo On Demand—to make hiring excellence accessible to companies with limited resources.

If you’re an early-stage founder, we have a bold message—you will live or die by the first few talent decisions you make. And we would be honored to have the opportunity to help you make those decisions great ones.

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