What should I consider when hiring my first employee?

Jan 9, 2020

The Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem is privileged to have a number of leaders who represent successful startups, Universities, entrepreneurial support organizations and more. Want to learn from the leaders? We’ve polled the men and women of the Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem on several informative topics. Here are some of their answers to the following question: What should I consider when hiring my first employee?

Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director of Startup Junkie:

“Hire someone that can do the things that need to be done that you can’t do and hire someone smarter than yourself.”


Haley Allgood, executive director of Startup Junkie:

“If you can, a trial period is really helpful. We often hire interns who could become full-time employees if they are a culture fit and have the work ethic to learn the job. In fact, that’s how I started. A second tip, use Intuit’s full-service payroll so you never have to worry about taxes and filing forms.”


Carter Malloy, founder of AcreTrader:

“Their resume doesn’t matter. Substance over pedigree.” 


Edwin Ortiz, founder of Luncher:

“Understand your gaps and find someone who is strong in those areas and is willing to touch all parts of the business, more than likely they will.” 


Angela Grayson, founder of Precipice IP, PLLC

“Hire slow. Fire fast.”


Rick West, co-founder and CEO of Field Agent:

“EE1 needs to have the same moral and ethical DNA as you but must have a different skill set that compliments your weakness. Yes – we all have weaknesses.”

Omar Kasim, founder of Con QuesoJuice Palmand Plomo:

“Identify the skills that are needed to allow your business to succeed that you may not have, then find someone that has them.”

Brett Amerine, COO of Startup Junkie, co-founder of Cadron Capital Partners:

“Don’t ever hire those with a halo around them. Hire those who have knowledge, skills, aptitude and abilities to take your organization to the next level. Don’t underemphasize how important attitude and effort is. Set expectations early and remember high standards are contagious.”


Canem Arkan, managing director of Endeavor Arkansas:

“Look for flexibility. Your first employee is going to be doing a lot of jobs that do not fall under her strict job description. In fact, your first employee might end up doing everything from updating social media, to dealing with lawyers, to ordering pens, to whatever her actual job entails. You want someone who feels that no task is too small, no job too arduous for them to tackle.”


Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, founder of LIVSN Designs:

“Assuming they will be wearing many hats, find someone who embodies the values you need. You can teach skills but it’s much harder to teach resourcefulness, flexibility, persistence, and other traits necessary to build a startup.”


Christine Pummill, Community Manager at Plug and Play:

“Hiring for the skill you need to fill is great, but it’s more important to hire the person with the right attitude for your team.”


Jon Allen, Founder of Onyx Coffee Lab:

“Staffing is one of the hardest and most important things a business does. Your employees are an extension of your business, and for an entrepreneur that usually means they are an extension of yourself. I think many people tend to want to hire friends or family in the beginning because those individuals tend to be known quantities. You can trust them, they care about you, they want the business to do well. I think this can definitely work for some businesses and employees, but I’ve seen a number of businesses struggle with this. When you’re first becoming an employer, you want to be able to have a high standard for your staff and not be afraid to uphold it. So much of the employer/employee relationship revolves around being able to give honest, positive, but often tough feedback. I have seen- and have myself- been at the helm of hard discussions with staff members and had them say, but I thought we were friends? It’s such a tough spot, because often in an operation as you have staff members buy in- or they are already part of your friend or family circle, then there is no separating work relationships from personal ones, as much as you might want that to be the case. You might end up in a spot where you have to choose to either push forward as a business and ask your staff to improve, to come along with you, to grow, to be more productive, etc., or to choose to maintain a personal relationship with staff. 

I don’t think that these are mutually exclusive things. I definitely think you can have friendships with staff and still be able to be the boss when needed. I also think you can have family or friends that are in the trenches with you and bring incredible value to your business. I do think that, more often than not, things don’t tend to work out that way. My advice is to save yourself some heartache at work and at home by looking around outside of your friends and family for your first employee.

When we are hiring staff, we have a couple of things that we look for. Our business is built on customer relationships and high-quality coffee. In interviews we look for people who know how to serve others. This can be a tricky thing to assess, but over the years we’ve narrowed it down to this one question: “Tell me about a time when you experienced great customer service, as the customer, and describe how it made you feel.” So many of us can rattle off negative experiences that we’ve had, but it takes a great experience or someone looking for the good in experiences to commit it to memory. Because this is a core of our business model, we absolutely have to work to add those kinds of people to our team. The second non-negotiable is having a taste for black coffee. It always seems like anyone applying to work in coffee would like coffee, but that’s not the case. Our focus on quality necessitates people that are passionate about coffee. Asking an applicant whether they like coffee or not, or to describe their passion, usually nets the answer we want to hear but doesn’t necessarily reflect the heart behind what the applicant is saying. We ask them to just share their go-to coffee drink and why it is that, and that answer typically tells us what amount of passion for coffee they possess. It takes time to develop these kinds of principles in hiring, but anyone at the juncture of hiring an employee probably has a good vision of where they want the business to go and the principles behind it. Let those principles guide your interview process. Finally, hire people you want to work with. Regardless of how great someone’s resume looks if they don’t make a great impression on you during the interview then don’t hire them. This is the person you’re going to be working with every day, the person you’ll be receiving calls, texts, emails from, the person that your customers are talking to instead of you. You should like them.”


Have a question for leaders in the Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial community? Send it to caleb@startupjunkie.org and look for the answers in an upcoming blog post.