Startups: Hire Top Down or Bottom Up, Just Make a Smart Decision

July 5, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Lately I’ve noticed a lot startups that seem to be haphazardly seeking their next hire. Don’t get me wrong, the positions they’re trying to fill make a lot of sense, but the strategy and logic behind who to hire when seems to be vacant or skewed.


This seems to happen for a few reasons:

  • Casting a wide net to see what the talent pool and level of interest looks like.

  • Assuming they (read: Founder, CEO, etc) can fill the shoes of whatever hire they don’t find first.

  • Being cautious with capital (ie, defaulting to small salaries over large salaries).


Early org and hiring decisions carry a disproportionate amount of weight. As you enter into these commitments, consider a few things:

  • Of the people who are currently at the company, what are their skills?

    • Early on you should hire around existing skills or fill blind-spots that exist.

    • For example, if you choose to hire a CTO over a COO (replace with: Engineer over Ops Manager), the existing members of the team should have significant operational skills and experience, with a distinct lack of tech chops.

  • Of the talent available to you, will a high-level hire make a larger impact now or later?

    • If you need an MVP to even have a product or service to offer, maybe you should hire a C-Suite, VP, or Director and use freelancers/consultants to build their vision.

    • If you have something to sell already, maybe the more pressing need is to hire a Business Lead and look to bring in someone above that person when it’s time start planning/launching the next phase of the business.

  • Is there a way to structure compensation to attract and hire the right person?

    • There are a lot of ways to structure a comp deal. Don’t limit yourself to thinking someone needs $250k to get on board. Maybe the right person would be happy with more stock options to offset salary.

    • If you’re willing to part with stock options over cash for salaries, seeking a Cofounder, Board Member, or Advisor that will cover areas where you lack experience or understanding might be a great option.

    • Also, consider that a Director of Sales can pick up some of the workload (especially at a startup) of an SDR or Account Executive. It might be more salary-savvy to have one Director of Sales plus one Account Executive, than to have three or four Account Execs to get the same amount of work done.


This merely scratches the surface of what levers you can pull to make things work best for you and your company. The important thing is that you make decisions for the right reasons and start building your startup’s organization in a way that makes sense now and for the future.


If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!