You are starting a new venture. What employees or help do you need? How many do you need of each?
Because, ostensibly, this blog is about a “lean” MVS (Minimally Viable Startup) let’s talk minimums—one, and in some situations zero of each. You can always hire a few more later (or an army) if you so desire. In descending order of priority:
1 – Lawyer
This isn’t really an employee, but you probably need one. This is essential if you are past the “vision” stage and are in the “experiment” stage. If you are trying to incorporate, or are already working directly with a client or customer you should consider a lawyer. Your clients will ask you to sign their contracts. You need contracts as well. Your contracts should be in writing and in legal form. You can probably “get by” for the first engagement or two with a verbal agreement, but you are playing the odds.
A lawyer will be able to help with incorporation, contracts, and obviously legal issues and disputes if they arise. Another thing you should consider is that your startup probably has some level of unique information that you are leveraging. This is your intellectual property. A lawyer can help protect your IP through copyrights, trademarks, branding, etc. A lawyer can be a “hard-stop” against bad things going wrong.
Can you do it without a lawyer? Of course. Maybe you’re a lawyer yourself. Or maybe you can make the right choices at the right time. You can incorporate and get various legal forms online. But there are probably cases where you don’t know what you don’t know and a lawyer would know.
If you choose to go without a lawyer, make sure you research the required aspects of the law that pertain to your particular state thoroughly. One size does not fit all.
If you can’t decide whether you need or don’t need an attorney, you should err on the conservative side and get one. Yes they cost money, but it’s an investment, not a cost.
2 – Accountant / Banker / Financial Consultant
This is another essential non-employee. However, you may be able to defer hiring an accountant to a point where you are generating income and hire actual employees. At that point your startup is more than just you, and you need to have an “objective” eye on your finances. An accountant can help with taxes, salaries and compensation, banking, corporate budgeting, invoicing, etc.
If you do put off hiring an accountant, you need to make sure you track everything you spend or take in. Keep receipts for everything associated with your business. You should also not co-mingle your personal finances with your startup’s. Get a business banking account. Create a budget for your startup and track it. It will simplify your life and taxes later. It also acts as a reminder that money your business makes is meant for the business apart from the share that you use to pay yourself. Document your salary (even if its $0.00 up front) and live by that. No dipping even if you’re a 1 person MVS.
3 – A Mentor / Advisor
Yet another non-employee. This should be someone who has been through the trenches and can help steer you around the pitfalls. You learn best by doing (and a lean startup is all about doing) and with a Yoda to show you how. True, it’s not strictly necessary, but I think it’s a good idea none the less. A lot of people suggest having an “advisory council”, but I am approaching this from an MVS.
One thing you should avoid when choosing a mentor: family members and very close friends. You don’t want to lose them if an argument arises. Bad feelings can survive longer than some startups. Also, when deciding on a mentor make sure you trust them, like them, and they have some experience in (lean startups). Just because they are/were a CEO doesn’t mean they have started a company.
The remainder of your employees if you choose to have any will depend on your particular situation, the three I’ve listed above cross all types. One final thing about the main three: in addition to using them per their role, make sure you leverage the knowledge they bring. In certain situations, you may want to bring all three into the same room at the same time and treat them as if they were an advisory council.
Onto my specific case, here is what I believe I minimally need from a software development standpoint:
1 – UX (User Experience) developer
A person who has a sense for design but is willing to code. I know my design sense is poor, so I need a hard-stop.
2 – Server-side developer
A person to develop applications fronted by APIs and web sites. This is not as critical to me (since I could do this, but would prefer not to).
That’s it. That’s all I believe is needed for a software-development MVS. Two people (including myself to manage, code, do some web stuff) is all that is really needed to iterate over testing early ideas in an ultra-lean manner. True, with more employees you could do more faster, but it wouldn’t be “minimal”.
That’s my lean hypothesis.