This person should be your first start-up employee

Trustpilot founder and CEO, Peter Mühlmann outlines qualities every business should look for in their first start-up employee.

“Men wanted. For hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.”

This is how an alleged ad by the renowned explorer of Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton, reads. Searching for men willing to take a chance and join him for an adventurous expedition to the icy southern continent, he was clear on what the journey would look like and the type of character he needed for the job.

To me, this ad, supposedly printed in The Times, in many ways sums up what you should be looking for when searching for you first start-up employee. Admittedly, unless you’re into DIY space travel or the like, chances are that you’ll have a safe return. But as all entrepreneurs know, your business could very well fail within the first few years. Therefore, your employees should expect hazards as you build your company.

Yes, wages will be small when you’re starting a company. For the first two years in Trustpilot the average salary was $1,500 per month. However, there are so many upsides to joining a start-up. The entrepreneurial spirit, the autonomy that comes with investigating unknown territories and being able to build something amazing from scratch. If money is the key driver for a potential employee then they’re unlikely to be the right fit for you and your company. Find someone that wants to be part of an adventure because they’re passionate about being a part of the journey and simply can’t resist.

Bitter cold and long months of complete darkness. Absolutely. Not only in the sense that you work like never before but also in the sense that you will at times feel like the loneliest person in the whole world. I recall working late – most nights – looking at my social media feed thinking: Why is everyone else so successful? At that moment not realising I was being blinded by the artificial reality of social media.

The truth is that building a business is tough. For everyone. We often hear about amazing success stories in the media. Businesses that seems to be built in weeks and sold for billions. But the reason we hear about these companies is because they’re the anomaly. It takes years of hard work while you endure the pain of making mistakes and tackling challenges you’ve never faced before. But at the end of the day, it’s still so much fun. Your first employee should – just like you – have the stamina to see through the bitter cold and moments of darkness.

Honour and recognition? Indeed. In my experience, everyone has profound respect for those who try to build a business. Even if you don’t succeed, people will respect you for taking a chance and going on a ‘hazardous’ journey trying to make a difference. The same recognition will be given to your employees as they help build the company.

So when you look for your first start-up employee, try to find someone you would bring along for the maiden voyage of your brand new ship that is casting off to discover a whole new continent. Once you’ve settled in and you are ready to build a city, you may need different skill-sets but you don’t need to worry about that when embarking on the journey.

So, how did Shackleton and his men fare? Well, after his second expedition where he made the largest advance to the pole in history, only 180 km from the South Pole, he was knighted. But it was on the basis of his third expedition he truly accomplished greatness – despite it being less successful in achieving its goal. Shackleton and his crew were stranded in Antarctica spending nearly two years in extreme temperatures and isolation. However, Shackleton demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills and determination by managing to bring his crew members from his ship, appropriately named “Endurance”, back home safely, surviving the hazardous journey and today being broadly recognised for his endeavours.

Peter Mühlmann, founder and CEO, Trustpilot.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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