Working for a startup is vastly different than working for an established company. Established companies have steady processes and defined operations, while startups often wade through a constant stream of pivots and unknowns.
It makes sense, then, that startup employees would require certain skills and attitudes to thrive in this type of workplace. We asked 10 members of Young Entrepreneur Council for one quality they believe all startup hires need to have. Here are the traits they deem essential and why each one helps when working in a startup environment.
1. The Ability To Be Fearless Through Failure
Building a startup is a very difficult task in and of itself, and undoubtedly you and every one of your team members will make many mistakes along the way. It’s not about how often you’re right, but about how often you can learn your lessons and adjust to move in a direction that’s better. Understanding requires the intention of learning and the acceptance of being wrong, and that is why this is one of the most important traits individuals can have when working on a startup. – Sean Hsieh, Concreit
2. A Passion For Your Mission
One of the most important factors I consider in hiring startup employees is passion and mission fit. Passion exists at the intersection of what you love to do, and what you’re good at. If the candidate is passionate about the role and has the potential to contribute to what you are building, you can feel the candidate’s excitement. Your mission exists at the intersection of what you love to do, and what the world needs. The candidate must be driven by the company’s mission and believe that what you are building is innovative enough to change the world. This is critical for their ability to stay motivated and continue working hard through the highs and lows of startups. Passion and mission fit are absolute must-have qualities for startup hires. – Swapnil Shinde, Zeni Inc.
3. A Proactive Attitude
One of the big differences between an established company and a startup is that startups need to move faster and take more risks. So in a startup the mentality always should be, “How can I move one step further in everything I do?” In order to do that, you need team members who have that mentality of proactively identifying, analyzing and executing on these opportunities as they come, even on a daily or weekly basis. That also means you need a team who is not afraid to take risks, and if they fail, they learn from that and move on. With that experience, you continue taking risks but minimize the failure as you learn. Making decisions on a daily basis and making them quick also requires the team to have “taking initiative because I have authority” power. – Tolga Tanriseven, GirlsAskGuys
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4. A Willingness To Take Risks
You need people willing to take risks and willing to fail so they can learn from those mistakes and push the business forward. Hire people who know your specific industry very well, but also look at people who have experience outside of your industry, as they may provide a different perspective. As for those risk-takers, they typically are bold, confident and offer ideas that just might give your startup the edge it needs to succeed. They also tend to provide the energy needed when hours are long, tasks are ominous and the hill seems steep—but they don’t care. They just want to succeed and see your business succeed. They are problem-solvers, and new businesses will have a lot of challenges. Build a team that isn’t afraid to attack those problems and isn’t discouraged if they fail. – Jeff Keenan, LeadsRx
5. A Preference For Unstructured Systems
Startups are often fluid in structure and process by nature. That’s because what worked for a team of four employees and two clients doesn’t work for a team of 20 employees and forty clients. Employees who seem to tolerate—or better yet, thrive—with a fluid environment tend to last longer in startups. On the other hand, some people prefer the stability of predictable, rigid structures like annual performance reviews and budget approval systems. One structure is not better than the other. For startups, however, find the employees who openly like a more fluid environment. – Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications
Everyone who works for a startup needs to be relentless. There are obstacles inherent in the startup environment that don’t exist in an established company, and startup employees need to understand that in order to succeed. Sales teams will have to push through rejected proposals, the operations team will have to work through efficiency hiccups and scaling issues and marketing departments will be tasked with making the company stand out in a competitive marketplace while operating with much lower budgets. Failure is prevalent throughout the startup process and can be very discouraging for employees without the right mindset. New hires who join a startup team with a degree of relentlessness are able to turn that failure into learning experiences that contribute to future success. – Charles Bogoian, Kenai Sports
I think it takes a lot of courage to bet on something that’s still in progress. Unlike established companies that have settled on most of the tasks for each role, a startup is still figuring out what place their employees have in their project. This is why a startup employee should be ready to tackle unforeseen circumstances and, most importantly, to adapt. There’s value in hiring someone who has gained expertise in different areas and can show how they’ve encouraged their company to innovate or grow. I’m going to bet on a person who’s restless and determined, and not somebody who has been at the same company for more than a decade. A startup should have a team that wants to be constantly challenged to learn new skills and think outside the box—a team with courage. – John Lie-Nielsen, One Park Financial
Everyone on the team of a startup needs to be self-motivated. People need to be able to think on the fly, come up with solutions and take action without being directly told to do so. All of this comes from being self-motivated and then being given a secure environment in which to act. I have seen a startup team before that was missing this critical component and half the time the majority of the team was waiting to be told what to do by the founder. This was an incredible drain on the resources of the business and seriously stunted their growth. It was not even that the team was not filled with very smart people, but they just did not have the initiative to apply it on their own. – Alastair Sanderson, LFA Machines DFW LLC
9. The Ability To Prioritize Company Goals Over Personal Goals
Compared to established companies, startups tend to operate in a rapidly changing environment. Oftentimes, what is most needed out of a startup employee is in conflict with the employee’s personal goals, since the company direction and the job expectations of everyone on the team could shift rapidly. For instance, an aspiring engineer could be asked to take on marketing duties if circumstances arise. If all the employees are not willing to prioritize company goals over their personal goals, the startup is very likely to fail. – Tinghui Zhou, Humen, Inc.
10. Belief In The Company’s Vision
A successful startup hire must believe in the company’s mission and vision for success. While startups do want to make money, many startups are fueled by a drive to achieve something more, so it’s important to hire team members who share this drive. Early on, it can be difficult to assess if the candidate is a good fit, so we developed three ways to ensure there’s a mutual fit between the employer and the new employee. We begin by clearly explaining our high-level goals. We then have a trial period to give the new hire time to align themself with these goals. During this period, we have professional development chats to ensure that all employees (new and seasoned) remain aligned with both the company’s goals and their career goals. These three practices allow us to see quickly whether the new hire is a fit. – Cooper Harris, Klickly