How to Build a Winning Startup Team with Max Shapiro

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Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.

4 min read

Great companies run on great talent. Max Shapiro, founder and CEO of PeopleConnect, explains the key questions every founder must ask when sourcing and hiring an all-star startup team. 

It’s often said that startup investors make decisions partly on the strength of a team. It takes strong talent people to build a great company — and for that reason, staffing decisions are some of the most consequential choices a founder can make.

Max Shapiro, founder and CEO of PeopleConnect, has been helping startups to land top talent for 20 years. In the wake of the dot-com bust of 2001, Shapiro created a unique recruiting model called Employees Without Paychecks that enables cash-strapped startups to pay in equity before raising capital. Over the years, he’s seen firsthand what it takes to build a successful startup team, and shares his insights with Founders Network

Firstly, it’s a mistake for founders to lean on a limited personal network to find and recruit talent in the early stages. Register to Max’s full webinar and see if you qualify for membership to Founders Network and get tips on:

  • Sourcing a Talent Pool
  • Working with Agencies
  • Optimizing for Experience
  • Asking the Right Questions
  • Building a Team
“Most startup entrepreneurs don’t have the time or expertise or experience to find candidates.” - @Max_PplConnect Click To Tweet

“Most startup entrepreneurs don’t have the time or expertise or experience to find candidates,” Shapiro says. “But relying on friends, family or advisors for referrals naturally produces a much more smaller pool of candidates.” 

“When you’re working with an agency, like PeopleConnect, we’ve put together a list of 150 people, interview 20 of them, and present three well-qualified candidates within three weeks. Our universe is much larger,” he adds.

“There are a few characteristics that startup founders should be looking for in a candidate,” Shapiro explains. Prior experience working at a startup tends to be extremely helpful — those candidates are used to an environment that often demands long hours, versatility, and the ability to wear many different hats to get the job done. 

“The most important thing is you have to hire people with startup experience.” - @Max_PplConnect Click To Tweet

“You may be the product person, but you might be helping out in sales or marketing or making coffee. If you’re not used to that, it’s hard to make that adjustment,” Shapiro says. “The most important thing is you have to hire people with startup experience.”

Still, a resume can only tell you so much about a person. Other traits that tend to correlate with startup success are optimism, a team mentality, and the ability to maintain discipline even in challenging circumstances. A smart CEO or hiring manager knows how to ask the right questions to suss out what makes a person tick, and how well they’re likely to perform at your startup.

“You know you’re working at a startup when you’ve worked a 40 hour week, and it’s lunch on Wednesday,” Shapiro says. “I’ve seen mistakes made by startups when they hire people that don’t have startup experience.”

Asking open-ended questions — such as a simple “tell me about yourself,” or prompting them to discuss what they most enjoyed in school — is one way to learn about a candidate’s life and how they approach work. Even asking questions about their early life experiences can better reveal what challenges or adversities they’ve had to overcome, and how they learned to do it. Extracurricular activities that may not show up on a resume can also be revealing: Participation and success in team sports, or other group activities, that require collaboration and team building are a signal that a candidate can work well with others to overcome problems. 

“Team activities are a good indicator of the ability to work hard, have discipline, and work with other people.” - @Max_PplConnect Click To Tweet

“Team activities are a good indicator of the ability to work hard, have discipline, and work with other people,” he says. “For example, a college athlete who has gotten a scholarship shows they’ve been part of a team and can handle a lot of pressure.” 

Other illuminating questions include asking candidates to rate how lucky they consider themselves to be as a measure of optimism: “You have to get someone who is upbeat, positive, and has high energy,” Shapiro says. 

Above all, your startup’s recruitment process needs to be organized, methodical and uniform for every candidate — which is why the assistance of an agency like PeopleConnect is often so essential for the busy founder. 

“The recruitment process needs to be organized and the same for everyone; you need a level playing field to evaluate candidates.” - @Max_PplConnect Click To Tweet

“The recruitment process needs to be organized and the same for everyone; you have to put everyone through the same process and have a level playing field to evaluate candidates,” says Shapiro.

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Read more by Founders Network

Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.