People = More People

This quarter we grew our team by 25%, and we have on the docket to grow by another 25% next quarter adding another 50 people in the next three months. We’re super excited about our future, and the progress we’re making. Our team growth is a reflection of the amazing work we’re doing!

I’ve sat in countless board meetings that followed a similar scenario as the one above. They were always accompanied by these tables that clearly outlined their role and compensation. Rarely, however, did it draw the correlation I was looking for with regards to positive impact to the company. It was as if the shear act of “hiring” was enough to say – “Look, we’re doing things!”

This article is specifically for founders of early-stage startups, those just getting off the ground. It works to capture a few things I wish I would have known when we first started a decade ago, and serves as a reminder to myself as I personally continue down the road of startups on my own endeavors.

More People != More Progress

Team growth is not a great indicator of doing amazing things. If anything, it can be a strong indicator of inefficiencies in the team. When you’re starting, especially if bootstrapped, I encourage you to stay as small as possible as long as possible.

More people will not equal more progress, things always slow down before they speed up.

You should assume every new person will take 3 – 6 months to get ramped up, depending on the job. You should also expect that who you hire, especially when starting, will likely be the wrong people.

When you start hiring, this means you now have employees, not Founders. Expect the output to be reflective of that. If you’re putting in 12 – 14 hours a day working on your brand, know that your employee will likely not put in the same level of work. You will likely be hiring wrong, you won’t need 1 person, you’ll likely need 2 – 3 people.

More People == More Processes

The minute you hire your first employee, everything will be different. Even for one employee, you will want to consider things like:

  • Vacation time
  • Sick Time
  • Payroll / Benefits
  • Insurances
  • Human Resources
  • Policies & Procedures for Everything
  • Documentation
  • Societal Ebbs & Flows
  • Promotions / Terminations

The list goes on.

You will now enter the world of people management, a discipline in it of itself. It’s a world where you are going up against emotions, feelings, cultural and religious differences and as such you’re always one step away from stepping on a landmine.

More People == More Politics

The minute you start hiring, assume politics will exist in some form. I think it’s human nature. As long as there is a desire to stand out, promote, grow, make more money, there will inevitably be some form of politics.

I once complained about the politics in a large company, to which I was reminded of the fact that politics exist in all forms in all aspects of our lives – companies are no different, no matter the size.

In large companies, team growth / size is used as a way to demonstrate your political capital and power in the organization (i.e., more people, more resources, more money in your P&L). In small companies, team growth / size is used to demonstrated to the org and investors that you’re moving in the right direction (i.e., we’re investing and running fast).

More People == More People

There is no getting around this. The minute you start, it will be very difficult to stop.

First, you will likely hire way less than you require. Many of us when starting will assume that we can simply hire someone to do the work we’re doing, but have a very bad grasp on what we ourselves are doing in terms of effort. This means we’ll assume that the hire will be able to pick up exactly where we are, or will bring all the different skillsets or natural curiosity to get the same output done. That isn’t always the case.

More often than not, if you think you need 1, you probably need 2.

Second, the minute you hire and start accounting for the other elements like vacation, sick, holidays, etc.. you realize you will need more people to fill gaps. This is especially true for teams that have support groups, and can be more easily managed across engineering, marketing, and sales teams.

Third, with new hires you have to start thinking hierarchy, leadership, growth, mentorship. By design, this will bring the need for more people, senior people, and with more people will come more processes.

Solving Problems will Inevitably Requires More People

If what you are building is solving a real problem, the need for people will be inevitable. And when you start hiring, people dynamics and management will absolutely become a critical piece of your job – there is no way around this.

That being said, there are a few things I would recommend to all Founders that are bootstrapping and just getting started:

  1. Stay as small, and flat, as you can, for as long as you can;
  2. Feel the pain of wearing multiple hats, working in disciplines you don’t fully grasp early on;
  3. If you have a customer focused product / service, make every new hire work that side of the house when they first come on (this will help everyone understand the problem you’re trying to solve and your users);
  4. Always hire in pairs when you’re starting, you don’t know what good looks like until you see it;
  5. Lastly, they say hire slow, fire fast.. the reality is firing is not fast at all, not in today’s world, so be mindful of that. Maybe consider contractor projects to start, in the place of hiring – gives you an opportunity to work with someone, get the output you need, without the overhead of the people side of the house.

I like to reflect on my time in my past chapters and the one thing that always stands out to me as something I wish I could redo is the people management side of the house. The minute we started hiring, everything changed.