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  • What Startups Look for in First Employees

    It’s a given that startups look to recruit entrepreneurial-minded, hard-working, talented individuals. However, many business professionals don’t understand that the skills and abilities they’ve gained while in the corporate world rarely translate to the startup world — especially for early to medium stage startups.

    I recently had three friends from college ask me about my startup experience and how they can best transition from the finance world to the tech startup world. Though they have great experience in finance, their background carries very little value when it comes to tech startups. Here is a breakdown of the different stages of tech startups and what they look for in first employees.

    Seed Funded Startup

    A seed fund usually runs from $10K to $100K.  It’s just enough for the founders of a startup to survive, pay rent, and get to a prototype of the product. At this stage, no startup is looking for an employee because they can’t pay an employee. If anything, the startup may be looking for another co-founder.

    If you’re a business professional, then you’re out of luck here. Tech startups are looking for co-founders that are engineers and designers, not marketers or sales people.

    Angel Funded Startup

    An Angel round usually runs from $100K to $1 million.  An angel funded startup will definitely be looking to hire first employees.  But again, a tech startup will usually be looking to hire engineers and designers at this early stage.

    There is opportunity for a business professional though as the startup may have needs in user acquisition, sales, and marketing.  Keep in mind though, this is where finance professionals (like my friends) usually fall short.

    At a traditional business job, such as consulting, investment banking, or accounting, young professionals rarely acquire skills in user acquisition, sales, or marketing.  Traditionally, these business jobs require a lot of excel analysis, power point creations, and more number crunching on excel.  This is why it’s so difficult for business professionals to get a job at early stage startups: there skills just don’t translate to the needs of a startup.

    VC Funded Startup

    A venture round can run from $5 million to $100 million (the sky is the limit). At this stage, a startup is usually looking to expand and scale, which means there are plenty of opportunities for a business professional.

    Some of the most common positions include Account Manager, Sales, Business Development, and Social Media Manager.

    Skills that Startups Look For

    As a first employee, you’ll of course be called upon to wear many hats and play many roles, but your role will be in the execution department as oppose to the strategy and vision department — that’s reserved for the founders.

    Furthermore, the founders generally take the role of business development since the startup was their idea and they can usually sell it better than anyone else.

    First employees that are business professionals must therefore be able to create value in the online marketing or user acquisition department.  If you’re looking to make the transition to the tech world, you should definitely learn the following skills:

    1. SEO
    2. Adwords
    3. Conversion Optimization
    4. A/B testing
    5. Social Marketing

    Can a Business Professional be a Product Manager?

    It’s possible, but it’s rare.

    All of the product managers that I know have an engineering background. It makes sense because the product manager must effectively communicate with developers and will at times be called to actually build the product.

    How can a business professional become a product manager?

    Simple: build your own product and prove that you can be successful.  You’ll then have credibility for future projects and startups will want to bring you on board because you have a proven track record.  Sounds easy right?


    Jun Loayza is the President of Lion Step Media. In his entrepreneurial experience, Jun has sold 2 internet companies and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi’s, LG, and Activision.

    Jun currently lives in San Francisco, CA with his girlfriend.

    Jun Loayza is the President of Reputation Hacks. In his entrepreneurial experience, Jun has raised over $1 million in Angel funding, sold 2 internet companies and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi's, LG, and Activision. Jun currently lives in San Francisco, CA with his girlfriend.

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