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Choosing Someone to Manage Your Startup

written by: Mike Sweeney•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 6/18/2011

A startup company can be an exhilarating yet challenging place to work. When founders put their ideas into action, very often they need operational help to smooth out the initial bumpy ride and steer the new company in the right direction.

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    Hiring Criteria


    Like any business, hiring a manager for a startup company is an important part of its stability and growth. First, think about the type of management skills you may need. What is it you would like the manager to do? Hire other talent, run the sales efforts, handle human resource (HR) functions, manage all marketing campaigns, or do a combination of everything?

    The first step in hiring any person is to clearly identify your hiring criteria for the position. You’ll want to identify exactly what you are looking for. Are you in the market for an operational manager only? Or do you need a variety of skills for the business to prosper and grow? Will the manager wear many different hats? How will these skills complement the founder’s skills?

    For example, in the technology field, many startup founders are technically proficient, but they lack either the time, desire, or ability to handle the day-to-day activities such as marketing, sales, hiring, payroll, insurance, supplies, paying bills and banking, among many others.

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    Track Record

    There is a lot to consider when examining a person’s track record. Look at the experience level of the person in working with startup businesses. That’s pretty important. Startups are very different than even a small business that has been around for a while. Unless a person has been part of a startup in the past, the chaotic nature can sometimes be frustrating for a new hire.

    Some of the consideration here would be the timing of the manager you are hiring. If the startup has been operating for a while, then the needed skills might be a little different than for someone hired from the first day of the startup. In that case, you’d want to find someone who is comfortable creating his own internal structure versus stepping into one that was already in place.

    Industry considerations are also important. For example, if you are in the high tech field, then someone from the same industry would probably be a better fit than someone from the retail field or the auto industry. The way things are done, business vocabulary, vendors, and types of potential applicants will vary from industry to industry.

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    Interview Questions

    Meeting customer 

    Your interview questions will center around your hiring criteria. If you need someone to handle all aspects of your startup--except what the founders handle--then you need to create questions to determine the applicant’s viability in this kind of situation. Since there would be a significant amount of multi-tasking going on every day, the ability to perform in this kind of atmosphere would be critical.

    Startups usually can’t be a training ground for hired employees. There is too much going on and enough risk-taking happening already. Decisions generally need to be made farily rapidly, and the best indicator for this type of skill are past successes in this area.

    Generally speaking, a corporate industry veteran would not be your first choice because of the type of working environment that a startup presents versus a corporate environment. However, you may need someone with specific skill-sets and business contacts. Sometimes, managing a startup can be similar to tackling a new product launch or new division within a larger company. In this case, a corporate background could help in putting a needed structure in place and fast-tracking some sales because of contacts. Plus, you never know, the corporate veteran may be looking for a change of pace, so your new company may be the right fit.

    Develop some planned questions that help uncover how the candidates stack-up to your hiring criteria. Make sure you get very specific with questions so the candidates reply with specific examples. Details are important here. The pace of the start-up could get hectic at times, so you want to minimize the amount of time you spend interviewing. However, the closer you get to achieving your hiring criteria, the greater the chances of hiring the right person for the startup company.

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    Interaction with the Founders

    A key part of the interviewing process is to determine how well the candidate will interact with the founders. If the founder is a dynamic, outgoing individual with great charisma, you may not want to have a duplicate in the operational manager. You may want to find a more complementary personality versus a potentially competing one. However, if a founder wants to stay in the background, then this type of personality could work. In that case, the manager could end up being a good spokesperson for the new business.

    The interaction with the founders cannot be minimized. There must be a mutual feeling that both parties can work well together, that their personalities will mesh, and that the manager and founders will support each other’s goals and responsibilities.

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    Web 2.0 Development and Business Lessons; Michael Woloszynowicz; February 27, 2011, at

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