How these 3 Boston tech startups built their founding teams

by Justine Hofherr
April 27, 2017

You often hear founders talk about “aha” moments — the lightbulb that went off when they came up with the idea for their product.

But it’s less common to hear them talk about how they formed their company’s early team, even though making strong early hires is crucial to a startup’s success. We caught up with three growing Boston startups to learn the backstories behind how they built their initial teams.

 

 

Athletes of Valor was founded by military veterans and former collegiate athletes to help transition servicemen and women from service into careers by leveraging the power of collegiate sports.

Responses via Alex Stone, Founder and CEO of Athletes of Valor 

Do you have a co-founder? If so, how did you choose him or her?

I founded this company with Jordan Fliegel, former Founder/CEO of CoachUp. He was instrumental in the initial launch of the company and remains the Chairman of the Board. We then brought on Griffin Mahoney as Technical Co-Founder and CTO. It was critical to find a co-founder who could manage the software and engineering side of the business. Trying to outsource engineering or use a firm would have been too costly and not very efficient given my limited technical skills to manage that project!

How big was your startup's founding team?

We are two co-founders but I consider my full-time team of four our founding team as they have been instrumental in our launch.  

How did you make those initial hires?

The initial hires were made through personal network and connections. It took several informal meetings to convince them to join a startup!

What traits are important for early-stage startup employees to have and why?

The most important things I look for are drive, character and versatility. At an early stage startup, every employee has to wear multiple hats in addition to their hired roles. Most of the time, they will have limited supervision or management. You need employees who aren't afraid to take ownership over their role within the company and ask for help when needed. I would rather be the one to reel them back in than to have complacent employees without any initiative or drive.

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to interview job candidates?

My advice is to forget looking for fancy titles or previous companies people have worked for. Just because they were a VP at some other large company doesn't mean they are a good fit for your startup. Find candidates that have all the same ability and are hungry to break out and make a name for themselves.  They are the ones that will do whatever it takes to win.

Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were building your initial team?

I would tell myself earlier on to spend even more time on recruiting to just get it over with and get back to focusing on building the company. Don't drag on hiring and only give it a small portion of your time and attention. If you need the role filled, go all in on recruiting so you find a good fit and get back to work!

 


 

 

Ourly.help is a digital allowance platform and interactive chore chart that lets parents pay their kids more effectively.

Responses via John Malone, CEO of Ourly.help 

Do you have a co-founder? If so, how did you choose him or her?

Yes, we chose our co-founder based on their passion for the industry, as well as their capabilities in delivering forward-thinking and scalable technologies. They have a no-fail attitude around solving the problem our business is trying to solve. He just so happens to be an amazing, strong-willed, scary-smart genius that I can spend crazy amounts of time with. Co-founders are balloons. Well, one is the balloon, and one is the string. Without the string the balloon would fly off into the atmosphere (or whichever way the wind blows). Without the balloon the string has no direction or purpose — it is just a string, and could become a shoelace if you’re not careful. In the end, both depend on each other.

How big was your startup's founding team?

Two founders and five staff members.

How did you make those initial hires?

Our criteria was very cut and dry: do they want to work here and believe in Ourly.help’s vision. Are they intelligent? Do they have the skills and qualifications required? Can we spend a LOT of time together?

What traits are important for early-stage startup employees to have and why?

Tenacity is an incredibly important trait — simply put, everything you have ever said to anyone will be challenged by budget, regulation, apathy, market demand and competition. You have to be tenacious to move forward.

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to interview job candidates?

You have to be absolutely sure candidates are dedicated to the vision of the company. Paychecks may be delayed, insurance will be slower than a large established company — so you better be sure they are dedicated to seeing everything through until the end. You don't need startup people; you need dedicated, hard-working, flexible people.

Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were building your initial team?

If you are truly building a unique, game-changing product, no one person will have all of the answers — but you will absolutely need to pivot at some point, so stay as flexible as you can as long as you can.

 


 

 

The Gnar Company is a Boston-based agency that designs and builds foundational web and mobile applications.

Responses via Nick Maloney, Co-Founder at The Gnar Company 

Do you have a co-founder? If so, how did you choose him or her?

Yes, Mike Stone and I worked together at MeYou Health. The company was building great software products, but struggling financially. The management team at MeYou Health was transparent about the struggles of the business so Mike and I had some time to discuss starting a business together. I was familiar with the development agency business model from my time at Terrible Labs. Mike was a strong software engineer, had some entrepreneurial experience, a high tolerance for risk and was a professional lacrosse player. What else could I ask for in a co-founder? We started doing contract software development work on nights and weekends prior to layoffs at MeYou Health so there was some momentum when we formally started the The Gnar Company. When the company downsized in January of 2016 it was a natural transition to begin work at The Gnar full-time. I know this would likely be my one chance to start my own company so I decided to give it shot and jump in with both feet.

How big was your startup's founding team?

There were originally four founding team members, but within the first few months of The Gnar Company, two decided to pursue more stable career situations, given the risk and grind associated with starting a new business. There were no hard feelings and we are all still friends. Mike and I recognized that we had strong technical experience, but that we lacked sales, marketing and business experience so we asked a fifth MeYou Health co-worker, Pete Whiting, who was Head of Operations, to join as a part-time business and sales advisor. Pete has since joined the company full-time as Head of Growth and Client Service, as the business has scaled up.

How did you make those initial hires?

Almost all of our initial hires worked with one of us previously, either at Terrible Labs or MeYou Health. Fortunately for us, MeYou Health had a strong engineering team and due to the layoffs, there were a number of talented engineers suddenly available. We knew these engineers would be a great cultural fit at The Gnar, as well as being able to develop high-quality, tested and well-documented software.  

What traits are important for early-stage startup employees to have and why?

Focusing on winning business and earning revenue to start the flywheel of growth because clients give you credibility to win more business. You must be willing to grind and have the confidence that the money will start flowing. You must listen to your customers’ needs and be nimble in addressing those needs continuously. While I think this is especially important to a service company such as The Gnar Company, I think it pertains to any startup. For example, a lot of agencies prescribe what collaboration tools and processes to use, and while we certainly have preferences, we will use what tools our clients prefer. It’s important to possess broad skills and a willingness to learn what is needed to help the business from billing to business development to developing great software with clients. In addition, it is important that early employees thrive in unstructured environments, which is especially the case in client service.          

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to interview job candidates?

Start by utilizing your professional network to hire candidates or at least get referrals to both shorten the hiring process and increase the hire rate. Build a repeatable, consistent hiring process, starting with cultural fit then evaluating their specific capabilities. Balance speed and quality. It is better to be selective at the top of the hiring funnel versus the bottom. In addition, start with senior “doers” first, then add more junior team members to provide leverage. Hire team members with skills that you do not possess to provide breadth across the team.

Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were building your initial team?

We wished we had hired a few additional developers that we knew and that were available. We missed out on hiring a few great software engineers we used to work with, one, in particular, we lost literally by hours by not being as aggressive with providing an offer. At the time, it was scary being responsible for their salary, health insurance, etc for the first few hires and now we are trying to hire rapidly. We had already made the leap to start our own company; it was not the time to be too risk-averse.   

 

 

Photos via companies and Shutterstock

Know a tech company with a great founding story? Let us know or tweet us @BuiltInBOS

 

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