How to Build a Winning Team at Your Startup

Every successful startup founder has to eventually take a leap of faith and hire employees. If you feel stressed or worried about taking this step, you are not alone!

The key to easing your anxiety is feeling confident that you know how to build a winning team.


If you're a first time entrepreneur, I'm here to help guide you through this process.

Here are my top three tips for hiring and managing a startup team that not only meets but exceeds goals together!

1. Look for Subject Matter Experts

When hiring for your startup look for people who really know a particular business area well and give them the freedom to do their job.

If you aren't a marketing expert, don't hire a marketing expert and then tell them what to do. If you hire an accountant, don't tell him how to interpret the tax laws. Instead set guidelines and give input, but ask more questions than you make demands.


In Foundr Version 1.0 Justin Gold from Justin's Peanut Butter says, "My approach was to hire people with great experience, who knew the industry and knew how to grow my company in ways that I never could. I brought on people smarter than I was, and I let them lead. I gave them guardrails, because I had a vision and knew where I wanted to go, but I let them lead."

Justin's Peanut Butter is now a multimillion-dollar business, and Justin's formula for team success isn't unique.

Rod Drury from Xero says, "High performing teams need a whole range of skills, so build that unique collection of people who together can be awesome."

Letting subject matter experts lead the various aspects of your company will require putting your ego aside and admittedly this isn't always easy, but it will be worth it.

2. Don't Forget About Cultural Fit

Hiring subject matter experts is the first step towards building a great team, but it's not the only step. During the vetting process you'll want to be sure your new hire(s) will be a cultural fit too.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee turnover due to poor cultural fit can cost a company between 50-60% of a person's annual salary. Ouch.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that the best way to ensure you make hires that are a cultural ft is by defining the organization's culture.


You'll want to write out your startup's:

  • Values
  • Goals
  • Practices

This will help you to "identify critical characteristics that mesh well with that culture." A tight cultural fit ensures that both the new employee and the rest of the team retain high job satisfaction leading to superior job performance and high employee retention rates.

During the interview process give prospective employees a tour around the office. Allow candidates to see how your existing employees interact with each other at meetings, during lunch and throughout the day.

See how job candidates react to the environment and what kind of questions they ask. A candidate's reaction to seeing employees at work will provide a strong indication if there is good cultural fit or not.

3. Give Employees Freedom to Be Awesome

As a startup founder you do not have the time to be a micromanager, nor should you feel like you need to be one as long as you've hired subject matter experts.

Here are a few ways you can show employees you trust their expertise:


Ditch the 9 to 5:

Everyone is different. Some employees will be early birds and others will be night owls. According to the Harvard Business Review, allowing employees to choose to work during the times they can be most productive is empowering and fosters employee satisfaction as well as improved productivity.

Of course team meetings, phone conferences and the like will come up and employees should be available during these times; however, mandating specific desk times for each day is controlling and potentially destructive to productivity levels.

Allow work-from-home days:

Similar to allowing employees to break out of the confines of the 9 to 5, you should allow work-from-home opportunities. This doesn't have to be every day, although it can be. There are plenty of remote working tools available today that allow teams to remain connected from many different places. The Buffer team is 100% distributed and they are enjoying massive success.

In fact, one study from Stanford University found that employees who work from home take fewer breaks and are more efficient. A work-from-home policy can also lower operating costs for your startup which is an added benefit!

Don't dictate the method by which a problem needs to be solved

Setting goals and realistic deadlines for your employees is important, but don't dictate the roadmap the need to follow to get there.

Entrepreneur suggests, "Be upfront with your team about resource constraints such as time, money or staffing, but otherwise, don't limit their approach to completing the goal in any way. For example, you might give your team the budget and time frame, but let them choose which tools or materials to use."

Putting too many restraints on an employee will kill their motivation to do the best job possible. Subject matter experts are thinkers - they don't want to be given a step-by-step task list, they want to use their own brains to figure out excellent solutions to existing problems.

Don't put unnecessary restraints on your best employees. If they wanted to work in a highly structured environment they would be living in a corporate world, not hustling hard at your startup!

Don't Rush the Hiring Process

When looking for your first set of employees, don't rush the hiring process. Find smart subject matter experts that will be a good cultural fit for the vision you're building towards.

These initial employees will be leaders at your company for a long time (hopefully), so look for people you can trust and that you can enjoy working with.