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The First Hires in Tech Startups: Interns, Freelancers or Employees?

The First Hires in Tech Startups: Interns, Freelancers or Employees?,

Hiring your first employees in a startup is like setting the cornerstone of a grand structure. In the dynamic world of tech startups, these initial hires bring a special mix of skills and qualities that make them stand out from their counterparts in larger, more established companies.

Understanding what these skills are, how startup environments differ from big companies, and the motivations behind choosing to work in a startup can shed light on this exciting and fast-paced ecosystem.


Essential Skills and Qualities for Startup Employees


Startup employees are often the Swiss Army knives of the tech world—versatile, adaptable, and ready to tackle whatever comes their way. Unlike in big corporations where roles are neatly defined, startup employees often juggle multiple tasks. They need to be tech-savvy, resourceful problem-solvers with an entrepreneurial spirit. In tech startups, proficiency in relevant technologies and coding languages is a must and often sought after first. Startups face unexpected challenges, so employees must be creative and innovative in their problem-solving approaches. A strong sense of ownership and a proactive attitude are essential; startup employees are self-starters who can work independently and take the initiative.


Motivations for Joining a Startup


Considering the full range of options on the labor market, people choose to work in startups for a variety of reasons. Many are drawn to the innovative nature of startups and the chance to work on cutting-edge technologies and products. Startups offer the potential for rapid career growth and the opportunity to take on significant responsibilities early in one’s career. The possibility of equity and ownership stakes in the company can also be a strong motivator.


Looking Back at the First Hires


To learn more about how hiring in startups is done in practice, we explored the topic with four tech founders from the region.

About the Romanian Proptech Bright Spaces, Bogdan Nicoară, CEO and co-founder, reminisces, “We had the privilege of starting out with our first three employees from day one. Previously, I founded and led a software development agency with Andrei Constantin, co-founder and CTO. Our journey to creating Bright Spaces began after winning the first PropTech hackathon in Southeastern Europe. This victory inspired us to transition from the agency to focus entirely on Bright Spaces. We brought on board three of our best employees from the agency to join us in this new venture, ensuring we had a strong foundation right from the start.”

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These key players were hired on contracts, including two developers and one 3D specialist. There was no formal hiring process, as these employees were already part of the previous company, and two of them are still with Bright Spaces.

Munch, a Hungarian FoodTech startup founded in 2020 by four student entrepreneurs, chose a different route. Bence Zwecker, CEO and co-founder, explains, “We hired our first three employees within the first two months of starting out. They worked as volunteers with no financial benefit, which was made possible by our close university community connections.”

These early team members took on roles in marketing and sales, and the hiring process was quick, thanks to their pre-existing relationships within the university community.

“In the very beginning, I was hired as an e-mail marketing and content specialist, but in reality, I did way more things. Since then I have had four different positions and now I am responsible for PR communication, partnerships, and written content in four countries, ” describes Belayane Najoua, one of the first employees of Munch.

On the other side, Sloneek, a Czech HR startup, took a blend of strategic planning and swift action. Milan Rataj, co-founder, shared, “We hired our first three employees approximately six months after starting. We hired them on contracts because we always wanted 100% commitment and focus on work for us. The first three positions were one backend developer and two frontend developers. The hiring process took only a few minutes as we had strong resources. Currently, one frontend developer from this group is still with us.”

Choice, an online B2B subscription-based service founded by Alex Ilyash in 2020, also leveraged existing networks. Alex recounts, “Before even registering the company, we reached out to people we knew from our past companies and agreed that they would join us. We hired both freelancers and employees on contracts. The initial positions were a developer, head of sales, and UI/UX designer. The hiring process took about a month, and all of these employees are still with the company, having virtual shares and options in the company.”

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If we are to draw a common line between these stories, probably it would be the importance of starting out with people you’ve known before. As everything is quite new and unclear at that point, having people who look for answers together is the trick to make the startup work.

What’s your experience with hiring the early employees for your startup? Share it with me at [email protected].

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Elena is a Startup Community Editor at The Recursive. In other words, she keeps close to the startup ecosystem in CEE and makes their stories heard. She creates educational and informational content about innovation, funding and startup growth.