My 25-year-old son, Adam, is starting his own company, called AGreen Farms, an indoor hydroponic farm in Philadelphia that will specialize in growing and selling microgreens and herbs to restaurants.
As a father, a mentor, and an entrepreneur with six startups‘ worth of experience under my belt, I am thoroughly enjoying my son’s building his company, and it is reminding me of some of the big early lessons in my career. One of which being: whom to hire.
This is one of those big hurdles every young entrepreneur has to clear, and something I talk a lot about in my book, All In. That first hire, in any business, is what makes entrepreneurship feel real. It’s the thing that reinforces the level of responsibility you’ve signed up for, and the fact that whomever you’ve hired is now looking to you: for direction, for guidance, and for a steady paycheck. And the weight of these things is what forces growth in a founder.
However, your first hire can also be a huge steppingstone for your business. In fact, whom you hire can have such a dramatic impact on the trajectory of your company that some founders worry too much about making the “wrong” first move and end up not hiring anyone at all, or they rush the process and hire anyone with two legs.
Both are wrong.
So, as I’ve been reminded of some of my earliest hires as an entrepreneur, here are five things you should think about before making that first hire of your own:
1. Don’t be afraid–you can always fix it.
Not making a hire is worse than making a bad hire.
I want to repeat that for you because it’s extremely important: Not making a hire is worst than making a bad hire.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I also adhere to a similar rule that says, “You never make a bad hire–you just don’t fire fast enough.” As in golf, hiring is not about getting it perfect. It’s about making more good shots than bad.
2. You can outsource in the meantime.
If you know you need to make your first hire, it’s always beneficial to ask, “Can I outsource anything until I absolutely need to make this a full-time position?”
Knowing which problem you’re solving for can help you understand which type of decision you’re making. For example, let’s say you were thinking about hiring a social media manager. That’s a role in which, sure, it would be great to have someone on staff who learns the ins and outs of your company and culture. But, especially early on, this is a role that can easily be outsourced–allowing you to allocate elsewhere what you should spend on a full-time salary.
3. Balance previous experience with startup mentality.
So many founders think they need to hire people with big-company credentials.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
Many people who have spent years (if not decades) working for a major corporation or brand aren’t going to have the right DNA for the startup journey. Corporate work environments are extremely established, with clear processes in place. A startup is the opposite. And while it might seem tempting to hire someone who “has years of experience,” you need to question whether they have what it takes to get into the dirt and build something from scratch.
4. Seek referrals from people you know.
I’m not saying go out and hire your friends and family with no relevant experience. In fact, I’d strongly encourage you to not do that.
Instead, look to those close to you for trusted referrals. Chances are, the people in your life who know you as a person will give great recommendations for people you can hire–and they’ll be more likely to only recommend people they would personally vouch for. This might seem like a small thing, but especially when you start hiring more quickly, you’ll need all the recommendations you can get.
5. Hire for your weaknesses, not your strengths.
This is something I tell every young entrepreneur: You don’t need someone just like you.
What you need is someone who can do the things you shouldn’t, or can add value in ways you can’t. In my son’s case, he’s extremely knowledgeable about the products he wants to offer, and can easily build rapport with customers. He loves talking to chefs, and it’s clear that sales is his sweet spot.
However, indoor farming is more complex than traditional farming, so his first hire was a plant scientist/head grower. This way, Adam could remain the face of the company to clients, meanwhile someone more experienced could manage the farm. This makes for the perfect inside/outside team, because the roles complement each other.
Regardless of who and how many people you ultimately have on board and when, the real value in making that first hire is all the education that comes along with it: training, managing, maybe even firing. These are the toughest lessons for first-time entrepreneurs, but they’re the ones that ultimately shape you into the founder you set out to become.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.