Managing Star Employees In A Start-up

With the success of several start-ups in India in the last decade, more and more budding entrepreneurs are taking a leap and launching their dream venture. However, what sets a start-up apart is innovative products and services for which they need the right people. The easiest way to get the best talent is by hiring star performers who have a strong track record of generating innovative ideas. More expertise on innovation team leads to more product innovation. This is mostly done by picking star employees from technologically advanced organizations and create a product development team. Over the years, freshers as well as top talent have also become keen to work with start-ups for the employee experience they offer.

According to LinkedIn, the top 25 start-ups in India in 2019, has collectively created around 18,000 jobs in the last year and are expected to generate more than 19,000 new jobs over the next one year. While service sector attracts more talent, product companies hire only 5- 10 people but they expect only good quality talent and are also ready to pay more. Well- funded start-ups even go up to hiring 50-60 people as they realize that quality manpower can give them the much-needed competitive advantage. Thus, they not only need to invest in hiring star employees, but also in employee engagement strategies that assist them in retaining top performers.

The founders of these budding organizations are aware that only hiring superstar employees and retaining top performers can help them scale up. However, it is often observed that product innovation efforts see a setback when star employees and company founders work in the same team. Conflicts arise when two or more team members start considering themselves as the experts and are not ready to budge from their views.

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According to a research from Washington State University, University of Washington and Texas A&M University, while the presence of both the star employee and the founder within a company has a positive outcome on the organization’s performance, the results get weakened when both of them are part of the same team. Both the founder and the star employee have high influence on how the team works due to different reasons. While the founders’ influence comes from their position in the organization, the influence of star employees mainly come from their past experience and accomplishments.

This is why the founders of a start-up must consider a few things before hiring a star performer to ensure the smooth functioning of the innovation process in the organization.

  1. Clearly Defined Roles: The high influence exercised by the superstar employees and founders can result in conflicts when working in the same team, especially when the roles are not clearly defined which could be the case in most start-ups. This may not only lead to disagreements in the team but also have an adverse effect on the innovation process. When the role and the chain of command is defined clearly in the teams, it helps in quicker decision-making without clashes.
  2. Previous Start-up Experience: If the star employee has previous experience of working in a start-up, they are better equipped to work in a collaborative environment and are more aware of the challenges of a smaller set up. They are not only better at working in an informal work environment but are also more flexible. Research shows that start-ups that hire star employees with previous start-up experience launch more innovative products compared to start-ups that hire star employees from larger organizations.
  3. Founders’ Adaptability to Change: Irrespective of whoever is in the product innovation team, founders need to be more adaptable to change. The founder’s role and the expectations of the investors must also evolve as the venture grows. In the initial stages of the start- up, a founder needs to be directly involved in product development. However, as the organization grows, the founder’s approach must shift from being involved in every small task to managing the business. While it is easy for the founder to get too involved and micromanage the whole organization, founders must be aware that their roles will change over time and they must delegate more to the star employees as the organization grows.
  4. Shared Passion: While hiring a star performer, the founder and the recruiter must learn to look beyond the past achievements and accomplishments. The candidate must share similar passion as the founder along with displaying evidence of their expertise in previous roles. When the founder and the candidate share a similar passion and interest, it is more likely that they will have a similar outlook, thus, reducing the chances of possible conflicts.
  5. Cultural Fit: It is extremely important to find an employee who is not just a star performer but also a cultural fit for the team. For instance, if there are four co-founders in a start-up, it is important that all of them are on the same page while hiring the candidate to ensure a productive working dynamic in the team. In the long run, it not only helps in improving employee engagement but also in retaining top performers.

Star employees leave their comfort and join a start-up mainly for intellectual growth and freedom to work. When start-ups hire new employees, they have a choice to consider the new hire as an employee or make them a part of their team. When they do the latter, they help them grow in the organization, learn along with them and improve their sense of accountability and responsibility. It ensures that all the team members have the best intentions for the organization and can move beyond small disagreements to work for the greater goal.


  • Start-ups must be aware of star employee pitfalls- 29 August, 2019
  • 7 Keys to Hiring Your Start- up’s First Employee- Nathaniel Koloc
  • Flush with funds, startups speed up hiring in slowing economy- Meera Vankipuram, 10 September, 2019

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