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Hacking Together Your Career in Startup: The Three Traits Startup Founders Look For

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This post was written by Seedcamp’s Head of Talent, Jamahl McMurran, and first appeared on the Startup Magazine. Follow Jamahl on Twitter @JHM_UK

Startups are very much in vogue, and the chance to work for a small but growing company disrupting a traditional space is a hugely enticing prospect for some individuals. But the first few hires that a startup makes are often critical to the success of the business, so what does a Founder look for in an early-stage employee?

In this piece, I’m going to talk in the context of small startup teams of less than 15 people, however, you can loosely translate the below into any startup employee.

Founders, if they could, would replace themselves. They hire people that not only have the functional skillset that they don’t have, but also come with the right attitude, work ethic and insight. This all really boils down to three traits which in my experience are i) resourcefulness, ii) execution and iii) obsession.

Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is the ability to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations and difficulties. Business (and life) is full of challenges, it’s how you deal with them that matters.

Resourceful people can thrive in a startup, it is truly an environment where they come into their own and enjoy flexing several different muscles (often all at once).

A resourceful person might know:

The latest tools on Product Hunt and understands what Zapier is How to acquire information you don’t have Knows a little about a lot and a lot about a little Read a blog that XYZ person wrote and can apply that in context to a conversation 6 months later Demonstrated emotional intelligence They also demonstrate the desire and ability to learn, whether that is reading up on python to figure out how to manipulate a dataset or doing a 10min crash course in SEO basics to find out how to change the robots.txt file.

To stand out to a Founder, show how you can find anything you don’t have and make the best use of those resources that you do.

Aim to learn something new every day

Execution

Can you execute? In a startup being part of a small team means you have to be able to follow through and get stuff done. There are few decisions that can’t be undone.

Executors don’t waste time. In a startup, things happen fast. “Stop staring at Pipedrive and pick up the phone!” I heard one guy say rather eloquently at a co-working space recently to his colleague.

Avoid procrastination. When you put a task off, consciously ask yourself how your time is best spent.

Obsession

Lastly, be obsessive. You have a relentless persistence in line with the company’s vision. You are obsessed with your craft. The best example I’ll provide here is a JavaScript engineer I worked with a few years ago. They fell asleep listening to podcasts on programming, spent weekends at hackathons and conferences, committed to open source discussions on the latest releases, this person truly loved their work. This isn’t just a passion this is an obsession. Loving what you do is incredibly important.

In my opinion this profile contributes significantly to the culture of a startup. To be the best early-stage startup employee you should be demonstrating a level of competency in these three areas. If you can illustrate all this to a Founder and how you’ll bring real value to the business whilst remaining humble and coachable, you’ll quite easily find yourself in a role with an amazing problem to solve.

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