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Let’s Talk: Getting the right people in

Taking the plunge and starting your own business can be scary. However a good team and support network can make the process much smoother. Having the right roles and also the right people in those roles can determine the success of your business.

This week we ask: what were the first roles you hired in your start up?

Joseph Robins, Payments Expert, GoCardless

The first roles you hire in any new department or region give you the ability to set the foundations and enhance your existing culture. When we launched our Melbourne office in 2018, we knew that we needed to take the most amazing pieces of our company culture and adapt them to the Australian market. As a result, we placed a “culture fit” as one of the most important characteristics of our first hires in the region.

The second key bit of advice I’d give is to hire adaptable people. Thousands of companies have launched super successfully in new regions, but I’d love to see any that followed the exact path they originally laid out. Having early team members that can adapt as you fine-tune your value proposition, your target audience, and ultimately your plan for success, is vital. Bringing in experts too early can mean you’re spending the bulk of your time either trying to fit square pegs into round holes, or having to replace team members who didn’t sign up for uncertainty and constant change!

Lucy Liu, Co-founder and President, Airwallex

When building a company from the ground up, the first hires are critical in setting the foundations for success. Any business can have a good idea — but it’s the dynamic team behind the idea that brings it to life and carries the offering to new heights.

In the early days of Airwallex, establishing a global financial infrastructure was our top priority. The quality of our tech platform would underpin the business’ overall chances of success. As such, our first hires were tech developers. 

Alongside recruiting talented developers, some of whom are still with us today, we made sure we invested in the best agile technology for them to work with. It’s so important to both hire the right people, but also to make sure you equip that team with the tools they need from day one. This joint investment in both quality people and technology meant Airwallex was able to scale and evolve without growing pains. 

Airwallex was also focused on hiring compliance support staff in the very early stages. We take our commitment to upholding and complying to legal and regulatory requirements very seriously. That’s why compliance remains at the heart of everything we do. We enlisted experts from the beginning to help us navigate the complicated regulations of the financial services sector. Being armoured with the appropriate licenses has meant we have always operated lawfully and work with integrity.

Ed Mallett, Managing Director, Employsure

When starting up Employsure, I hired two roles to help make my vision a reality. First, a crucial ingredient to any start-up is to hire someone who is highly adaptable, with no shortage of humility. Someone who can and will do anything to get the business going and can assume any role, a Jack of all trades you can depend on to get the job done.

Secondly, and perhaps in a way counter-intuitively, is to bring in someone whose expertise is the same as your own. For me, this helped free up time for me to learn the other facets of the business more intimately, so I could learn how to scale them, and then how to build on them.

If you have those two factors in place and they work effectively, you will then start to see steady growth in your business. If not, the business might struggle to achieve what it wants, and could run into trouble that otherwise could have been avoided with an effective start-up plan.

Jonathan McFarlane, Co-founder and CEO, PlaceOS

At the start of any business journey, you’re on a constant rollercoaster of ups and downs. During this period, having a great team beside you is one of the most important things. At PlaceOS, along with my co-founder, Steve, we wanted to build a team where we could problem solve over drinks. I like to think we’ve achieved that.

Steve’s role as CIO was to work on the product, while I was working on the solution design. But what we really needed to get going, was someone who could pull everything together and present PlaceOS as a service that customers could invest in. Therefore, our first hire was a Technical Director who could make this happen.

The next position we hired was a Lead UX/UI Designer. With a strong focus on user experience within PlaceOS, we wanted to put our money where our mouth was. Hiring someone who focused solely on this aspect, was the next logical step for us to take.

Following these two hires, we focused on building a team that we could trust and lean on. This is important because at the end of the day, a strong team makes a strong business and no matter the industry you work in, this is important.

David Fairfull, Co-founder and CEO, Metigy

At the heart of any successful business, start up or otherwise, is quality talent who are the right fit, both in terms of the skills they bring and also how they mesh with your culture.

For a deep-tech business, like Metigy which provides an AI powered marketing solution, we had to recruit talent that was going to help us actually build the product. This included a CTO to ensure we had the right project capabilities and tech stack — and also data scientists to both validate our logic and guide the development of our machine learning. 

Although the team you hire will depend on your specific business needs, it’s smart to hire from the top to ensure you have strong leadership in place, before expanding as resources permit. Original start up hires typically set the foundation for business culture and growth, so building the right team is a critical factor to long term success. 

Nick Frandsen, Co-founder, Dovetail

Your early hires set the culture of your startup, and will likely be responsible for growing the team, as I’ve learnt firsthand as the founder of Dovetail. Dovetail acts as a technical co-founder for start ups and scale-ups, leading product development for some of the world’s fastest-growing companies, like Afterpay.

Talent tends to attract other talent. If you get the first few right, you’re setting yourself up for success. But, one mistake we often see in young tech companies is the under-prioritisation of non-technical roles. The key roles an early-stage startup should consider hiring for are:

  • Sales and marketing: Most companies will have competitors with established distribution channels and larger budgets. To steal market share from these competitors will require serious thought, effort and ingenuity. You need someone waking up every morning thinking about these challenges.
  • Chief financial officer (CFO): Many first-time founders will take on many of the tasks of a CFO to save money. A good CFO (even a part time or outsourced) will free up a lot of your time that can be spent on higher value uses and help you gain a better understanding of the company’s financial situation.
  • Head of Product: This role sits at the intersection of strategy, design and engineering. How do you transform the high-level vision into software? Too many founders will take on this role and end up spending a lot of time doing detailed product work when they would be better off focusing on getting the high-level direction right and leaving some of the nitty gritty to a product manager they trust.

Danny Lessem, Co-founder and CEO, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll

Whether it’s the first days of a start up or a publicly listed company, it’s crucial that each and every role in an organisation delivers a return on investment. Needless to say, what that return looks like will be different for each type of role. However, before someone is hired the business needs to have a clear picture of what success will look like in that role and how that return on investment will benefit the business.

The first few roles ELMO hired for could not have been more different in their functionality, yet they all had clear return on investment measures. For example, one role was a design focused role where the return was having professionally designed material for our growing customer base. The other was a sales based role where the return is growing customer pipelines and finalised sales.

Each startup will need to hire different types of roles based on their industry. However, every single business regardless of size or sector needs to hire with a return on investment mindset.

Robert Coorey, Co-founder, Archistar

As a software company, our first priority for the business was finding the right people to build the product as it was essential we perfected the technology before we could sell it. We achieved this through making our first hires a senior software engineer and a computational design architect. Following this, we turned our attention to hiring people with strong sales experience and established networks to help grow our customer base before expanding the technical team to meet demand for new product features. When hiring for these roles, we looked for candidates with the right technical skills and soft skills required for the position, as well as similar values that aligned with the culture of our organisation. Today, we are 60 staff strong and have a great senior leadership team and a cross-functional squad based structure where each squad has a product manager, technical lead, designer and software engineers.

Bill Fry, Managing Director, EVE Investments

Culture is absolutely paramount and hiring the right people can make all the difference when it comes to positioning your business for success. As one of Australia’s leading vertically integrated health and wellness companies, Eve Investments is focussed on creating a strong sense of purpose and a clear vision. The company encourages collaboration and sharing of ideas and promotes inclusion and openness in all aspects of its business. This is achieved by having a flexible work structure, good communication channels and regular team meetings whereby individuals are actively encouraged to provide their input. Having staff located in a variety of different geographical locations, it’s important to have flexibility in terms of working hours, workplace locations and reporting structures. With technological innovations, we have been able to achieve a collaborative team environment that is united in pursuit of the company’s vision.


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Ann Wen
Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in commercial law and research. She is interested in SME tax law, public policy and Australian innovation.
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