How CEOs and founders can hire and manage team members

One of the questions I get asked the most from my coaching clients is about hiring…

“How do I hire and manage new team members?!”

Often, the founders and CEOs I coach still have responsibilities as operators. They run day-to-day tasks like coding, product roadmapping, marketing, and sales.

So, they want to know how to effectively hire and manage… while also keeping the business running and completing their daily todos.

At AppSumo Originals, we’ve generated $12+ million over the past five years with a small but effective team. I generally try to optimize revenue per-employee as a core metric and north star.

And, it’s been a success.

We have 7 team members — with an average tenure of 5+ years — who support 500,000+ users and $3.5+ million in yearly revenue. Big results from a small team!

One of our core revenue KPIs/levers for one of our largest products.

A big reason for our “outsized” success is how we hire and align our team.

Using a real example of a hire I’m planning in Q4 2023, here’s how founders and CEOs can grow their team without growing their headache...

1) Put together a prioritized list of tasks and todos

Before we start hiring, we need to be able to clearly articulate what we want.

It sounds obvious, but most founders struggle with clarity of expectations when hiring. Their expectations are too high, their focus too myopic, and their goals not S.M.A.R.T. enough.

Image of our goal
Our weekly S.M.A.R.T. goal tracker helps us understand priority — so we can hire with alignment.

Too many founders say things like “I want marketing help” or “I need someone to talk things off my plate”… but what does that really mean?

Instead, write a “high, medium, low” list of tasks that you want someone to do.

When putting together this list, I prefer to speak in simple layman’s terms (like how I talk to a friend over drinks).

For example, here are 9 tasks where I need help — with the importance aligned to how valuable they are to our KPIs and goal:

  • High – Create list of A/B tests to run inside TidyCal (i.e. branding on the free accounts) weekly to drive PLG (product-led growth) results to our KPIs and, ultimately, goal.
  • High – Help us understand the data in GA4 and, ultimately, how we can use that data to make quality-of-life improvements to our product and improvements towards our goal.
  • Medium – Organize customer feedback and build clear roadmap that aligns with our KPIs and goal,
  • Medium – Help 2x our frontend development and design speed.
  • Medium – Provide timely one-hour response time to prospect/user questions in our help desk.
  • Medium – Help us improve our processes to get to our KPIs and goals faster.
  • Low – Act as a liaison between our Originals teams and other teams at AppSumo — so I can be more strategic and plan our long-term vision and goals better.
  • Low – Google Sheets expert to help us build better, faster data reporting that tracks our KPIs (instead of relying on the Business Intelligence team externally).
  • Low – Attend cross-functional meetings, and speak for Originals, so I can step back and be more strategic in our goal setting and planning.

You’ll notice I have a cross-section of wants: Some marketing, some operations, some development.

In startups and early-stage businesses between $100,000 and $5 million, CEOs often need help in a lot of places.

They’ve found some success and product-market fit (PMF)… but the processes are often unoptimized, stress is high, and there are a lot of leaky pipes that make growth harder than it should.

This is why priority towards the KPIs and goal matter. It helps us understand what tasks are MOST important to hire outwards right now.

In other words, it’s all about compounding steps that build off of ALIGNMENT. We want to focus on the tasks that have the MOST impact towards our goal and solve them. Then continue going down a list.

Many early-stage founders will instead try to find the “perfect” team member that solves a collection of cross-functional needs. Those unicorns rarely exist, and it can be time-consuming to try and find them. Instead, focus on finding someone who can specialize.

In this case, most of my highest-ranked tasks could be simplified into a Growth Marketer, Marketing Manager, or Marketing Analyst. That’s the most urgent need.

And when hiring a marketer, there are some extra nuances to be extra-careful…

2) Don’t hire for marketing until you see traction

A lot of founders and CEOs I’ve coached have hired for roles — especially marketers — without strong direction. Where the new team member has to “figure things out”.

This is an expensive mistake. If we haven’t seen traction with a marketing channel, and we hire someone to go figure out how to help us grow… that’s a LOT of money that might be wasted for no results.

A list of 11 marketing channels that I helped a client create recently.

Instead, businesses in the $100,000 to $5 million yearly revenue range should follow the “test before you invest” approach:

Step 1: Put together a list of 10+ marketing channels. I’m often asked for the “best” marketing channels. There are no best. What works for one business might not look for another. This is why we test. If you’re not sure where to start, think about how companies have marketed to you recently, Google around for popular marketing channels, or ask a friend/coach. Don’t worry about perfection; just start creating a list.

Step 2: Rank your marketing channels. Add three columns: One for Impact, one for Ease, and one for Total. Mark Impact and Ease on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the MOST impactful for your goal and the EASIEST to do respectively. Sum those two values up in the Total column. This will stack rank the order of your marketing channels so you can prioritize testing in order of most impactful and easiest.

Step 3: Build a habit of testing 1+ marketing channel per week. Consistency is critical. Even if you’re only spending 20 minutes spinning up a PPC ad that seems only okay, it’s best to start moving in a direction to get some data and understanding.

Step 4: Look for any marketing channels that show indications of success. If you’re making $100,000 to $5 million per year, it’s likely you already have a few pretty good channels. For example, some ads that are running close at 1.5x ROAS. Some email newsletter sponsorships that are driving clicks to your site. Early success with a couple blog posts and SEO. Again, you’re looking for indications of traction — not necessarily spending hundreds of hours yourself optimizing.

Step 5: Once you see indications of success, hire someone to 2x+ the marketing channel. In other words, double down on what works. Only AFTER you see some initial traction or success should you hire someone. This way, you know the marketing channel has potential — don’t set your team members up to “figure things out” and inevitably fail.

When hiring in general — and especially with marketers — we should NEVER hire if we can’t clearly identify success for the person through both a primary metric and a secondary metric.

And here’s how to think about team member metrics…

3) Make team member metrics controllable

I often think of business like a house.

Before we start adding flare — painting the walls, adding furniture, buying that 65″ flashy TV — we need to make sure the foundation is set.

And your foundation starts with your BUSINESS GOAL. If you don’t have a clear, identifiable goal (i.e. a certain revenue target, certain number of customers, total signups, etc.)… then you need to do that before you hire.

This is because once you have the concrete foundation you can align your new team members with your goals. In a perfect world, they have KPIs they own that are big levers that impact the business.

In other words, their responsibility are the LEVERS that impact the overall GOAL for the business.

One of our KPIs/levers for KingSumo in the old days was “giveaways created per day” — and we could have a team member focus/own that responsibility.

For example, let’s say my main goal is $5 million in revenue for my business this year.

When hiring my Growth Marketer, my KPIs might look like this:

  • Primary (quantity): Define 1+ PLG A/B test for us to run weekly inside TidyCal and measure, track, and iterate on results
  • Secondary (quality): Generate $200,000 in increased revenue via A/B test results by the end of the year

Or, another example for a content marketer/SEO person that one of my clients is hiring:

  • Primary (quantity): Write 2x new blog posts per week and 1x blog refresh per week
  • Secondary (quality): Make sure articles have an A+ SEO ranking in Yoast SEO

The point of a metric is to be CONTROLLABLE. Revenue and results are often a byproduct of actions on levers that we hypothesize have an impact.

If you focus on the actions, the results will follow.

And using this three-step framework should help make your hiring much easier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *