Startup HR 101 – A founder’s best friend

The great thing about startups is the independence that they offer. However, one type of freedom that startup founders usually dread is the freedom of designing an HR system from scratch.

In the early days of starting a business, HR doesn’t even seem like a priority. As a founder, you know you have to work 24/7, joggling several areas of responsibility. But HR is not just about expanding your business.

Your HR efforts start with you, since you’ll be managing your own productivity and engagement. At this very early stage, your happiness drivers will be strongly related to the results you achieve and to your general state of mind.

Just go for it, there is no HR pressure

The truth is, there is no HR at first. Your efforts will be scattered around many different areas. It’s definitely a scary thought but, for most entrepreneurs, it’s a challenging thought that drives them towards the next big goal. Start by learning more about what HR is and what it entails.

Just focus on your business trajectory and figure out a game plan. Wear a different “hat” for every role you play. When you’re crafting a Marketing plan, wear your red hat, when you’re figuring out Sales numbers wear a green hat. You get the picture.

HR will be just another hat, until you’re strong enough on your own to get more people aboard.


The beginning of a business endeavor is the perfect time to think of company culture. You might think, “Hey it’s too much, I’m just getting started, what does a company culture have to do with anything?”. But the basis of a company culture is built on everything you envision in the first months.

The values that drive you, the founder. The principles that you want to apply in this new company you’re creating. All that comes first, before HR, before new hires, before profit.

You need to ask yourself “Who am I? What does my company stand for? How do I want my company culture to look like two years from now?”.

This will not only provide you with a clear insight into how you should base any future decision, but also who you want working with you to reach the goals you’ve set out. It will help you build a strong foundation for your business and it will give you the inner drive to get things done.

Your first hire

If you’ve completed the previous step, this one shouldn’t prove to be as challenging as most people would expect. Yes, it’s a major shift from a one-man company to working with someone new.

To get things started, you need to have some basic knowledge of the recruitment process. Where do you find people? How do you approach them and what happens next?

It’s important that you target the right people from the very beginning. Adjust your offer and your promotion channels to that target. You can also go on recommendations, which is a preferred recruiting technique these days. Set up a job description, some selection steps and spread the word.

At Hppy, we’ve created a Personal Development Framework for Employees, which allows us to assess the compatibility between our company and a potential prospect. It’s a very simple to use resource that can help you get to know or future employees better. The goal behind it is to find out what drives a person, both on a personal level, as well as on a professional level.

You can then compare the results of this framework with your own values and see if there is a culture fit. If your values match, you have a strong foundation on which you can build a long-term relationship. Diversity of character is beneficial and it works best if there is a personality match on the fundamentals.

You can use this resource and frame it to fit your personal style.

How Disqus got started with HR

A company that successfully overcame the bristly challenge of figuring out HR as a startup is Disqus. They provide blog comment hosting services for websites and online communities. In 2010, the CEO was still the only one in charge with HR. Kim Rohrer was brought on to build a HR department in a company of only 12 employees.

She successfully managed to lead the development of the company’s HR division while maintaining the same drive and productivity. As a result, Disqus functions at a higher level, even though it still has a flat culture, much like it was when the company was still a startup.

Read more in Software Advice‘s interview with Kim Rohrer, including some great advice for rising startups.


HR is definitely a challenging domain, one that requires a lot of resources and delivers essential results to a business. This is however directly proportional to the size and the development stage of a company.

For startups, it will most likely be a responsibility that the founder takes on. It’s important to remember the basic processes and to be prepared for the next step, when that time comes.

Define your company values, the principles on which you want to build it and hire the right people to help you achieve that. The rest will follow.

Image creditPhilippe Lewicki under C.C.2.0