Building Teams In The Early Days: When, Who And How To Hire

We recently sat down with Denver mentor Alyssa Pollack to discuss the best hiring practices for early stage startups. Alyssa is a strategic product and operations executive with 10+ years of experience across diverse businesses and industries, including Uber and Uber Eats.

The When

Hiring too early

  • Wastes valuable resources.
  • Risks hiring for the wrong things.
  • Has a negative effect on the new hire's morale Increases organizational overhead.

Hiring too late

  • Increases risk of getting desperate.
  • Has a negative effect on the existing team's morale.
  • May slow growth.

Assessing the need to hire

  1. Are there tasks that could be done that would generate growth/money that aren't currently being covered by the existing team?
  2. Do these tasks fit within a general profile/skillset?
  3. Do these tasks, in aggregate, seem like a full- time, long-term job?

90-Day Test

  • Map out what you'll have this individual to in their first 90 days.
  • Can this work be done by an existing team member?
  • Does this work add real value? Is this a full time job?

The Who

A case for the generalist

Specialization early on can result in gaps between very specific functions and rarely affords the opportunity for effective collaboration across functions.

Generalists can cover more ground and have an easier time adapting to dynamic needs of the company. The slight overlap in their skills and roles enables high impact collaboration and a sense of shared ownership.

Competency inventory

  • Outcomes: What is/are the business outcome(s) this individual will be expected to drive?
  • Activities: What activities will this individual perform to achieve those outcomes?
  • Competencies: What knowledge, skills, and traits must this individual possess in order to succeed at those activities?

A case for the over-qualified candidate

It is imperative to hire above the minimum viable candidate.

The minimum viable candidate will relieve the pain in the short term, but they are generally not motivated (or incentivized) to think creatively about optimizing or automating the grunt work.

An over-qualified individual will, on the other hand, work tirelessly to make the "grunt" work go faster (or go away) so that they can spend their time solving challenging problems or thinking about the future of the business.

The How

Key Components of the Hiring Process

Job Description: Accurately reflects expectations, yet casts a relatively wide net.

  • Snappy blurb: [New Co.] is a rapidly growing startup that makes [Product X] for [Customer A] and [Customer B]. As an early member of the team, you’ll be empowered to [Main Job Outcome] for the company by [Job Functions A, B, and C].
  • What they will do: Produce Deliverables X, Y, and Z. Drive Outcomes A, B, and C. Use Tool 1, Tool 2, and Tool 3.
  • What is needed: Personality traits, key experience, specific skillsets, experience with specific tools/systems, preferred educational background.

Screening: Checks for a few must-haves, but allows for unconventional paths.

  • Require more than just a resume to apply.
  • Screen for strengths.
  • Err on the side of picking up the phone.
  • Remember the competencies, and ask questions to ensure the candidate meets the must-have requirements.
  • Aim for a "hire/no-hire" after the initial phone screen.

Interview Process: Thorough but efficient, and gives the candidate an opportunity to feel out the role.

  • Assignment: < 1 hour, something that they will be expected to do within their first 90 days on the job.
  • Panel: Discuss assignment, opportunity for other members of the team to be involved.
  • Fit: Opportunity to assess interest and sell the role, allows the candidate to ask questions.

Assessment: Ties back to the competencies limiting subjectiveness and bias.

  • What questions do you have that haven't already been addressed in the interview process?
  • What were you most surprised to learn during the interview process?
  • If we were to offer you this job today, what would you be most apprehensive about?

Don'ts & Dos


  • Sugar coat the job description.
  • Discount unconventional paths. Let past results weigh more than titles and education.
  • Lower the bar because you're desperate. Your first 50 employees will hire the next 500.
  • Hire based on lack of weakness.


  • Respect the candidates' (and your) time. Always go back to the competencies, and if there are large gaps, move on.
  • Keep rejected candidates warm. Your organizational needs will grow and change, so they may become a fit down the road.
  • Have a plan for the following once you're ready to make an offer:
    - Compensation (salary, equity, benefits)
    - Onboarding (training, team integration)
    - Performance checks (early expectations, success metrics)

A big thank you to Alyssa for her time! For more information, please contact her directly at and mention you're a Labs Member.

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