5 Tips on Building an Amazing Team

A few tips from a talk I gave at PopTech last October.

1. The Vision

The greatest companies have clear vision. It’s the north star — the big, timeless idea that frames every key decision made by the company.

The people we hired to build Twitter could have built cool apps or services anywhere. But what really got everyone excited was the impact they’d have on building ‘the global town square’. Staying up late to fix a critical bug is much easier when you realize you’re giving people a voice.

Early on, you aren’t able to compete with the salaries and perks offered by larger companies. You shouldn’t even try. Instead, clearly articulate your vision and make sure the candidate is on board.

2. The Fuego

Having a great vision is essential, but how do you translate that into building a great team? Most startup ideas tend be crazy and untested at the beginning. It takes a certain type of individual to build momentum behind the idea.

The first follower is what turns a lone nut into a leader. — @sivers

Like Brian Chesky living in Airbnbs or Dennis Crowley discovering new spots on Foursquare, the founders that become the living, breathing, human manifestation of their vision tend to build the best teams. The passion is contagious.

3. The Team

Your first ten hires need to be all-stars. They must believe in the vision and share the fuego; they must be team players; and they should be magnets for talent — because they will set the foundation for your company’s culture.

We joke that our first employee runs our company. I fundamentally believe that culture in a company is set by your first 10 to 15 hires. — @jeffreyraider

Early hires heavily influence the company culture. So hire wisely! You’ll have an easier time growing the company if you have an initial team that is diverse across gender, race, and experience.

4. Company-sourcing

Funny story — in 2009, while I was still a recruiter at Facebook, I decided to crash a Settlers game night with a bunch of Twitter engineers when I was reverse recruited! It didn’t happen overnight, but everyone’s passion was undeniable and I knew it was something I had to be a part of. (Thanks Matt!)

In this competitive environment, you’ll have an advantage if you empower your employees to be storytellers and involve them in the sourcing of new talent. Your team is the most qualified to share the fuego. Candidates will be more responsive to hearing personal stories. Encourage everyone at the company to be an ambassador and to always keep an eye out. You never know where the next hire will come from.

5. The 18th Inning

Like baseball, recruiting is a long game. It takes time to build your pipeline. Make sure to invest in recruiting early on, and make it a core responsibility especially for your founders and executive team. Take time to train your employees so they’re able to articulate the company vision and share their personal stories.

Recruiting shouldn’t be seen as a burden or an afterthought. Don’t get discouraged by minor setbacks: the candidate isn’t immediately available, declined your offer, or whatever the case may be. It’s ok. Stay in touch and build those key relationships. Grab coffee, grab lunch, invite them over for happy hour. Recruiting is a long game. Be patient and invest in it early on.

Final note

Over the last 5 years, compensation has gotten extremely competitive, especially for high demand roles such as engineering and design. Large companies trying to attract top talent are continuing to increase their benefits. Free lunches and gym reimbursements are considered the norm. Shaping your culture from the beginning is more important than ever.

A special thanks to John Maeda, Matt Knox and Donnie Dinch.