Ask the Experts: What a Start-up Boss Wants in an Employee


We ask the brains behind some of the world’s best start-up accelerators.


The early life of a start-up is rarely smooth sailing, so those along for the ride will need more than their wits about them. Because you’re only as good as the team around you, we asked the top dogs at start-up accelerators from Denmark to San Fran to share their thoughts on what makes a dream team member:

No matter the company size, great employees are the ones who are able to contribute beyond their job description, take interest in all aspect of the business and basically are in the same mindset as if the company were their own. Another fundamental criteria that makes a great start-up employee is less obvious than it first seems: fitting in! Building a strong company culture in a start-up is a key component of building a lasting company. Making sure there is consistency in your company culture and that the people working together truly can relate to each other is ensuring aligned goals, everyday solidarity and understanding. Simply put, if you surround yourself with people you like and share your values, chance is you will all work better and accomplish greater things.
–Carine Magescas, Co-Founder of AngelPad, San Francisco/New York

A good start-up employee needs to share the same passion and devotion to purpose. Start-up life is rough and in order to make it through, employees have to genuinely love what they do and the company they work for. They also have to have a passion for making the whole company succeed, not just their role, and jumping in to help wherever they can. You never want to hear the phrase “it wasn’t my problem” – in a start-up any problem is shared by all, and you need employees who solve them and share in the greater success and failure of the company.
–John Harthorne, Founder and CEO of MassChallenge, Boston  

Start-ups are all about prevailing in environments of constraint. Resource constraint. Capital constraint. Time constraint. Of course there are various stages of start-ups but as a general rule you need people who can get stuff done under those constraints. That generally means determination (or maybe better put, resilience), creativity and an ability to self-manage efficiently. The rest can be taught.
–Kim Heras, Partner at 25Fifteen, Sydney

There’s a saying that “We hire on skills, but fire on values.” When we look to hire rock-star employees, we really make sure that those people agree with our values at their core. Our massive transformative purpose is to inspire, enable, and connect people to scale positive impact. Everything we do relates back to this and we make sure that everyone is aligned in understanding what it means. For us, culture is what happens when the boss leaves. So when building a rock-star team, you really have to make sure people agree with your values and are motivated by your purpose. That’s what will really enable you to have a great company and to attract the top talent.
–Laila Pawlak, Co-founder of DARE2, Denmark

To be effective in a start-up, you need to act like a founder. You need to operate independently but work well in a team. You need to question just about everything, but get in line when a direction is agreed upon. You need to be flexible with your duties, but operate at speed on the task at hand. It helps if you have a bit of visionary and hustler in you, but most of all, you need to be resilient, just like the folks who started the company.
–Brett Holland, Head of Acceleration at Lightning Lab, New Zealand

Rather than looking at what makes a good start-up employee, a founder must instead look at what makes a good leader because ultimately a strong leader will attract good employees. A founder and CEO must be able to clearly sell and articulate their vision and empower people to drive their interpretation of that vision. That is where a good company will turn in to a great company.
–Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, Founder of BlueChilli, Sydney

Start-ups are messy, they pivot and change direction constantly and they are hardwired to their early customers while they explore their early market fit. You can be coding one day, updating the website, doing customer interviews, working the support phone calls. You can be getting coffee and then doing a key customer demo. You can be working on what you have been told is crucial, just for the founders to change their mind based on new market feedback. You will always be close to the action and your efforts will have a visible effect on the company’s success. Flexibility, passion to make a difference, initiative, hard work, customer centricity and teamwork are all key attributes of great start-up employees.
–Bernie Woodcroft, Director of ilab, Brisbane  

We would love to hear your thoughts