Startup Team Management In The Beginning Phases

There are fast-paced startups where execution is mission-critical.

Then, there are the startups relying on an ongoing and regular business model – think of manufacturing or an ongoing type of activity that could easily take 60–80 hours a week.

In other instances, freelancing may be a great model for a lean startup.

The beginning phases of your startup have a lot to do with organizing a team and managing it. Here are some of the things you need to remember throughout the process.

How Hiring Works

Below is a video I created on the 4-step checklist for hiring freelancers especially for your startup.

My first startup yields over $300K/year with 5 employees. Three of them were freelancers helping out over the first year. The process was broken down into several phases and different team members were heavily dependent on others – therefore introducing delays or phases comprised of 2–3 weeks of hard work before a similar iteration was handled by another type of expert.

Most of them are running side ventures as well – either other startups or additional consulting services related to the business outside of the annual recurring revenue.

Another venture I was involved with started small and required some client support (answering tickets and presales inquiries). Those were a total of 10 hours a week handled by a freelancer who had several flexible contracts without fixed response times.

Different Approaches To Startup Hiring

Some of the businesses I’ve consulted had freelancer social media managers, folks running surveys at local events, creative people dealing with branding and design. Others used virtual assistants (10–20 hours a week) for different activities.

Building a small team with a co-founder and a few outstanding team members passionate about equity is awesome. But it’s not always applicable for various reasons – lack of available talent (or people buying into the idea), too many different responsibilities that one should undertake, or simply a lightweight business model that needs time.

If you’re in for fast growth and a chance for an outstanding exit, put in all of that time yourself with a co-founder, crush it, hire a few rock solid intrapreneurs and grow from there. Otherwise, freelancers may be a viable alternative for a lean startup model.

Startup Team Management

The Number 1 Focus 

The #1 focus for us when hiring new remote employees is communication.

An employee is supposed to work on an assignment/project and make sure that the deliverables are in line with the company’s priorities and time frame followed by everyone else.

So it breaks down into two bits:

  1. Professional skills
  2. Everything else

Caveats In Onboarding Or Management

Let’s assume that the hire is somewhat experienced and can work on their assignments. Here’s what else could happen in the meantime:

  • The implementation could be diverting from the business plan.
  • The solution may be incomplete or outright incorrect due to the lack of context, adhering to company standards, lack of sync with other team members.
  • There could be additional details provided by a customer or the management.
  • Or other changes with the team – which may require reprioritization or helping out with another assignment instead.
  • The recruit may be unsure of their pace. Working slowly may lead to a warning. Pushing too hard results in a burnout.
  • Proactiveness is usually rewarded in most organizations. Career progression is possible with the right attitude, coming up with ideas and suggestions for improvements, and genuine motivation.

Smart Communication – Is It Okay to Over Communicate?

Basically, everything that happens in a remote team is directly related to smart communication.

Even establishing the right protocol of touching base with the team and management is dependent on communication. This should be outlined as early as possible and regular virtual meetings or chats should be in place.

Some remote employees feel like full-time freelancers who are assigned a specific project which should be completed. They take ownership of the product and approach it as a one-man show. That’s rarely the paradigm which a company defines for its staff.

I always recommend my mentees and new remote hires to over-communicate. That has rarely resulted in actual over-communication – often times it’s still far below the volume of interactions which an office team has effectively.

Even if they cross a line, great managers would redefine the communication style and find the right balance. Sure, asking for every single question that could be Googled in a second isn’t ideal. But being out of touch for a couple of days while everyone on-site is working hard together is often a recipe for disaster.

What Benefits Can You Offer to Your Team Members?

While money is a common motivator that larger businesses use as an advantage when hiring staff, there are other key areas that a bootstrapped startup can focus on in order to contribute to their own team.

1. Flexible Working Hours

Flexibility in working hours and remote working are beneficial to a large volume of the population.

Standard office hours aren’t applicable to everyone. People living far from the office may be required to commute for 3 hours a day. Others may need to pick up their kid from the kindergarten or school.

I had a technical manager once living in Australia who was obsessed with surfing. He had a 3-hour afternoon break, driving his kid back from school and surfing for an hour and a half before the second shift at work.

2. Community Activities

On-site teams can benefit from organizing contests, games, competitions and other activities that boost the team spirit. Remote teams can still schedule weekly chats and engage with different online collaborations.

Moreover, remote teams can also participate in local activities. Volunteering and contributing as a part of the job can be satisfactory for many.

3. Friendly Working Environment

Large corporations often establish a strict protocol in terms of working hours, communication style, dress code. The corporate hierarchy may contribute to a formal communication that prevents top players from innovating and developing themselves both personally and professionally.

A small business or a startup can establish a friendly, welcoming, diverse environment that stimulates the working process as well.

4. Education

Small businesses can invest in organizing internal workshops or training courses. Applying for online training platforms is quite affordable – and could be immensely helpful to less experienced employees.

Investing in the professional development of employees is a perk that many large organizations haven’t prioritized yet.

5. Exciting Challenges

Working on an assignment in a team of a hundred people may be boring.

There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. Decisions take weeks. A single employee may work on a small chunk without having a broader view of the entire project.

Smaller businesses have a limited pool of staff members and responsibilities are often higher. Employees who want to progress and get better would benefit from working in a small team, learn faster and improve their skills.

6. Networking Opportunities

Team members in smaller companies are often in a position to interact directly with management or the C-suite. As a result, strategic connections could be made easily – including the inner circle and the existing network of the more senior staff.

Same goes for meetup and local conferences when an introduction is made.

I’ve met some of the most outstanding and inspirational senior developers and technical architects during my first two years of working in a small team.

7. Options/Shares

Startups who can afford giving shares or options to team members can increase the work productivity and involvement from team members.

A well-defined bonus system may work well. In certain cases, top performers may be in a position to make 2x or 3x their salary given a breakdown of their quota limits.

8. Optional Work Assignments

Larger organizations employing thousands of people often look for a niche, key specialties in a very limited area. Small businesses juggle with a lot of activities.

A motivated employee may step up and support the business by taking on additional assignments they are personally excited about. This brings some diversity in their day-to-day and lets them work on activities they truly enjoy.

9. Career Growth

Career growth in a startup may be significantly easier than a large corporation.

The first 10 or 20 employees may quickly become seniors, team leaders, managers, or even C-level executives after a couple of years as the business grows. Their learning curve is steeper yet shorter, and work never gets slow or boring.

10. Corporate Swag

As the company brand gets more and more recognized, company swag may be motivating for some employees. Branded tees or sweatshirts, mugs, flash drives or notebooks may be cheap yet efficient.

It’s a good opportunity to reward your staff and carry your brand elsewhere. A stronger bond is formed between the organization and the staff members working in the team.

How to Handle Mistakes Made by Team Members?

Assuming that the hiring process has cherry-picked great folks, mistakes are just a part of the process.

Good software engineering teams:

  • Understand that. Yes, mistakes will happen, inevitably, and minimizing the impact and frequency is what matters.
  • Have systems in place to reduce the impact by non-experienced developers and allow for quickly reversing disasters whenever possible.
  • Forget about pointing fingers until the system is restored.
  • Analyze the root cause and add prevention mechanisms for the next developer who may step on the same land mine.
  • Continuously update their documentation, test cases, and onboarding process, along with tooling, to automate whatever possible.
  • Support one another with peer programming and reviewing pull requests.
  • Work closely as a team and don’t let mistakes get in the way.

Your thoughts?