Someone recently tweeted about a company only being as good as its team. Sounds obvious, right? I’ve worked in a few places where for historical, political or some other reason the assembled team was never quite up to scratch. [If I used to work with you and you’re reading this, i’m not talking about you, honest.

Assembling a great team is difficult – there are so many factors involved and (let’s face it) dealing with people is more of an art that a science. One thing that is certain and has been a hard and fast rule from the start – we only wanted to employ the best people we could find. Big words, and certainly easier said than done!

We’ve made a few mistakes, made a few hard choices and had a few sleepless night along the way (i’ll never forget the email that I received one Sunday evening from a key developer in London saying that he wouldn’t be coming in the next day, having been offered a better paying job within 5 minutes walk of his flat) but in the last week we’ve completed the build of Huddle’s core London team., Aug 2008 – looking to the future (a few people not in the office today, sadly)

When we took on our A round funding from Eden Ventures last November we were 7 people. Following a couple of hard choices we were down to 5. Since then we’ve grown to 21 full-time staff, an outsourced development team in Argentina and a couple of interns.

We’ve stuck by our guns and only ever hired the best people we could find. Despite there being more work than we could handle and desk space waiting to be occupied, we’ve never taken on anyone that we thought was less than perfect. All of our development team have been grilled by at least three other techies before being allowed to take their formal interview. Even our CTO, ex-director of development for and Sabre Holdings, was made to sweat by our technical team.

What I think makes this team special, though, is that they aren’t just a group of people working on a project. In the last couple of months they have become a real team; more than the sum of their parts and capable of producing incredible results.

Finally, if I were to offer advice to other startups looking to hire a team (and if they were to listen, of course!) I would say:

  • The requirements when you first start and need quick, cheap results are different to those when you’re growing steadily and need stability – it’s a tough call but your initial team may not make the long-term cut
  • When hiring, don’t be afraid to say no if you’re unsure – it’s way easier to not hire someone than get rid of them when your suspicions play outsourced
  • Get your team involved in the hiring process – building a team of peers is important and fosters that all-important sense of family
  • You might fall in love with a candidate but don’t be disheartened if they say no – working for a start-up isn’t for everyone. Some people actually want to work for a bank.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your initial hiring – finding perfect candidates takes time but is worth it in the long run. And as your team grows you can begin to delegate some of the filtering.
  • A friend and colleague handing in their notice can be heartbreaking but there is no point trying to convince that person to stay – by this point you have lost them emotionally, even if you can convince them to stay for a while longer. If you love them let them go.
  • Don’t hire people if you wouldn’t want to spend all day, every day with them. Even if they are superstars.
  • If you decide to use agencies, stick to three or four, develop a good rapport and negotiate a good rate with each. Most good candidates are on the books of several agencies and will find their way to you eventually.

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