The 4 things I learned as a 23-year-old entrepreneur from hiring 55 people
I still remember the moment I posted the first job description for my startup, the first few people I interviewed, and the struggles I faced to hire someone to work for me, a 22-year-old at the time.
There have been countless times in the first month of hiring where I would offer applicants the job, they’d accept it, and decline weeks later. This entire cycle repeated itself for almost every one of those applicants within that month. Through their apologetic emails and follow-ups, I found that the biggest reasons for why it was so challenging were: (1) the positions were unpaid and (2) applicants were looking for a more experienced company — not exactly one that hadn’t even launched yet and was begun by someone their age (or younger).
I couldn’t help but feel helpless at the time. After the first 20 or so applicants, the only ways I felt I could fix the problems included (1) paying them, or (2) creating a time machine to start the company earlier on or go into the future and bring back an older self to interview them and launch the startup. Neither seemed very simple nor straightforward. But then again, I realize that there is nothing easy about being the only founded, and it doesn’t get much easier working on it full time at 22, just a few months after graduating from school.
I was determined to keep pushing myself and hustling to find people who bought into the mission and vision that I had set out for Fulphil. However, I also realized, the in-person interviews clearly were not working in my favor, especially when I had encounters with the applicants who had mistaken me as an intern working for Fulphil when I first approached the applicants. I knew that there had to be another way, and my solution was simple: a phone interview.
After around 5, I was able to hire 3 people — not too bad of a ratio — who my first few interns ever. Everything to get up to that point felt like an uphill battle on Everest, only for me to realize that there was still so much more — to build Fulphil, launch it, and continue to recruit more people. It all felt impossible and overwhelming; and though that sentiment hasn’t changed much over the past year and a half since then, I’ve already hired and managed 55 interns.
While the idea of having a whole team behind you is really exciting and exhilarating, it really is an entire journey in itself to learn best practices to hire, create an efficient and productive infrastructure, grow as someone they can proudly look to as a leader and a friend, but most importantly, learn how to develop them.
Though the growing pains are endless, these are the 4 most invaluable lessons I’ve learned through hiring 55 interns.
Trust and empower.
The unfortunate thing is, people need experience before they can get more experience. Oftentimes individuals are rejected from jobs because they don’t have enough or any experience, which creates a ridiculous paradox. How is even possible to get experience if all jobs are looking for applicants who already have experience? Where do you even start? This is a conversation I often share with my own team.
At this point, there have been plenty of situations where I have hired individuals who had little to no relevant work experience aside from being a waitress, cashier, lawnmower, or even a war veteran. I’m disappointed to say that most companies don’t look to them as strong candidates; however, I’m extremely thrilled and humbled to have had the pleasure of working with every one of them because they were always the most hardworking. In the process, I’ve been constantly inspired by their grit and willingness to learn because, in the end, we are all really learning and growing together — their work adds to their experience and is ultimately helping to build my wildest dream.
You have to delegate things. After 1.5 years of running Fulphil, I’ve finally learned that it’s actually quite challenging to be the only founder, or as most would refer to as the “solopreneur.” As the person who started it, it’s very easy to want to do everything. But given a meager 24 hours in a day with close to a million tasks to do, it spirals out of control to become a lot to manage.
Delegating is one of the most powerful things because you are giving your teammates more confidence. It’s the best validation to making them feel important and reassuring them that they are capable of execution. In the process, there is trust instilled in the relationship and even more importantly, trust in themselves with the confidence that they will succeed not only in the task but in replicating the same skillsets they take away in their future career paths beyond their time working in your organization.
As a young lean startup with limited resources, you have to be resourceful, and I’ve found delegating to be one of the best methods. Just a few months ago, I hired a business student from Temple University to take over our HR position. While taking her through the entire onboarding process, I had her take notes on how I was onboarding her. While the process was fairly meta in itself, she now manages our hiring process within Fulphil and has hired 10+ people to date.
By not delegating, you are lifting more than you can handle and it can take a toll. Delegating can refine your skills as a manager, improve communication, belonging, and efficiency — delegating helps teams win together.
Kara, one of our former team members, representing Fulphil and our brand in a national conference for female entrepreneurs
While the term is overused, it is important to put your people first. You are nothing without your team and it is important to prioritize them above the tasks at hand. A big problem in organizations is that employees don’t find meaning in their work. Having to spend the majority of our lives at work makes this a bit unfortunate.
What I’ve found useful is really as simple as taking the time to notice: understand where they are coming from, ask them about their goals, their dreams, make sure their tasks and projects are aligned, and what support from you looks like. The most valuable thing you can give anyone is your attention.
While this sounds much easier than it actually is, it begins being purposeful by creating specificity with your job descriptions. This itself involves a lot of reverse engineering — if you plan on hiring that many people, make sure you create the right infrastructure.
Helpful tip: Reverse engineer your organizational chart
1. Write down a list of the long term projects you need done in the coming year.
2. Understand the skillsets needed to achieve those projects. These can also serve as tags for the job listing!
3. Group those skillsets to create profiles of the types of people you need for those projects.
4. Draft a workflow process to understand how each person would report to each other. How many people of those specific skill sets do you need?
5. Create an organizational chart to get the big picture. You should know how many positions you need to fill at this point.
6. Flesh out the job description for each role you created.
7. Post it up, keep your fingers crossed, and hope for the best!
Shoutout to Chris from our team who created this whole infrastructure for our hiring process!
Vision brings people together.
Over this past year and a half, I’ve been surprised at the wide spectrum of people I’ve worked with. I’ve found that 30% were older than me when I first hired them and over 60% went to different schools from mine across the region. We all have a wide range of personalities given the backgrounds we all come from, making us all very different. However, the one thing we all share is the intrinsic motivation of wanting to make a difference in the world and the vision of inspiring other youth to do the same.
Vision is pivotal to getting close to success. It creates a sense of purpose and mission that goes beyond the everyday tasks needed to energize your team. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in this whole process is that people ultimately want to be part of something bigger to themselves.
Helpful tip: Sketch a visual for your tasks
Now that you’ve maybe created that organizational chart, it’s great to map out the outcomes and impact you hope to achieve through a simple flow chart, showing your expectation for the deliverable/project, work involved, and intended impact.
If you’re feeling especially advanced, you can even create a logic model :)
It is never easy to be the one person to imagine the vision and embark on a lonesome journey to rally others to believe in it. But that’s what makes the whole process as the only founder exciting — having the opportunity to be the visionary and spread that vision in hopes of creating the world you have in mind — It all begins with one. And with enough conviction and passion, it’s the best stepping stone to creating your tribe and creating meaningful experiences together.