Beware of Clones and Unicorns: How to Build a Winning Team

September 27, 2017


You’ve put your heart and soul into building your business. You’re a salesperson, a marketer, a financial analyst and a CEO all rolled into one. And now it’s finally time to expand your team.

The first hire that you ever make is one of the most critical decisions in the growth of your company.

The process of hiring your first employee is equal parts exciting landmark and overwhelming decision, especially without an HR team. After all, if you’re working on your own, your first hire is 50% of your business!

“The first hire that you ever make is one of the most critical decisions in the growth of your company,” says Adam Gellert, founder of full-service HR and recruitment firm Linkus Group. “You have to think of the impact that person will have in terms of what you do from both an ROI and cultural perspective.”

So how do you hire the best candidate for the role and also the best person for your company?

First Off, Change the Way You View Your Company Culture

Your first hires will be the seeds from which your company culture sprouts. But what does ‘culture’ really mean and how can you cultivate the best one for your business?

‘Culture’ is a big buzzword these days. “Know this: Whatever you think your culture is now, it will change as you grow. When you’re thinking about your culture and how you want to be perceived by clients and staff, figure out what you value in terms of work ethic. What really defines you and sets you apart from others doing the same thing?”

Sign up for the FreshBooks Blog Newsletter

While free lunches are grand, that’s not how culture is defined… it’s how you treat people. It’s a set of values and beliefs that drive every aspect of how you run your business.

Gellert suggests a great place to start is simply to ask your new hires what’s important to them. “It’s going to be different for each person. Then, build a value proposition around that. For some people it’s time off, for others it’s working remotely, and for others it might be compensation or commission structure.”

Having said that, each new person on your team will bring their own set of values and beliefs and should actually add to culture, not just blend in; culture should be dynamic. When you start to embrace this idea, you’ll build a team full of different perspectives and healthy friction. And your product and your business will be better for it.

So, find value in the fact that while you bring the passion and vision of a founder/CEO, your employees bring a fresh perspective to the business that helps it reach new heights.

Hire to Fill the Skills Gap: Avoid Unicorns and Clones

When you’re ready to start growing your team, it’s tempting to hire a Jack or Jill-of-all-trades. Fight this temptation: “Don’t look for a ‘unicorn’ who can do it all,” Gellert warns.

Instead, make sure you’re “realistic in terms of your budget and expectations of the new hire. Don’t try to hire someone who’s good at everything. Nobody is good at everything.” Plus, this just puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on your new hire.

Don’t try to hire someone who’s good at everything. Nobody is good at everything.

Gellert also points out that first-time business owners tend to be drawn to others with similar interests and strengths, creating an unconscious bias when hiring. But avoid this at all costs.

Don’t clone yourself; each new hire should bring a different skill-set, viewpoint and background to the table. This way, you’ll build a well-rounded team and promote diversity from within. “You’re good at what you do for a reason and you need someone to complement you and pick up on your weaknesses,” adds Gellert.

Hire for “Culture Add”, Not “Culture Fit”

“I see a lot of new people making the same mistakes over and over again. People are your most valuable asset so you should invest a lot of time and energy into making sure it’s a really good fit. That person will cost you a lot more if they don’t end up working out.”

One way to dodge getting trapped by your own unconscious bias is to remove the term “Culture Fit” from your vocabulary altogether and replace it with “Culture Add”. As Pandora’s Director of Employee Marketing & Experience, Marta Riggins, explains in this Forbes article:

“We believe that ‘culture add’ goes beyond recruiting. It’s about creating an integrated B2E (business to employee) marketing strategy to engage and attract great talent from all communities and backgrounds, develop programs to uncover and overcome bias, and fostering a culture of inclusiveness and belonging.”

Tips for Setting Your New Hire Up for Success

Ensure your hiring process sets both your new hires and your company up for success with some of these handy tips for each stage of hiring your first team.

Interviewing Potential Hires:

Avoid the urge to rush the interview process. While it’s easy to become enamored with a candidate who seems perfect at first… take a breath… and slow down. Make sure the hire is a worthwhile investment of your hard-earned time and money.

  • Meet with promising candidates multiple times and in a variety of situations. This will unveil different sides to who they are—chat over the phone, at a coffee shop, have them visit the office more than once and meet with different people.
  • Ask many different types of questions. See how candidates handle themselves in unexpected situations or when thrown a curveball question—it reveals a lot about their character.
  • Have short-listed candidates complete a case study. Case studies give you a taste of their creativity, expertise and work ethic, as well as showcase their presentation style.


The First 90 Days:

Approximately 20% of new hires churn within the first 90 days, which can end up costing you thousands of dollars in the long run. The first few months are essential so make them count.

  • Make newbies feel welcome. Sounds simple enough, but even the smallest gestures can be a huge difference-maker—take them for lunch or a coffee on their first day to get to know them better.
  • Provide solid on-boarding. Don’t cut corners here. Give new hires a detailed walk-through of any tools or programs they’ll be using and personally introduce them to clients or partners they’ll have regular contact with.
  • Build out a 90-day plan with them. Have processes documented and provide clear and measurable expectations for them to hit during the first few months.

Beyond the First 90 Days:

Relationship building is an ongoing process and it’s the only way to ensure employees stay engaged. Yes. You’re busy. But it’s essential to carve out the time to regularly check-in.



In the long run, be mindful that cultivating culture is not a “one and done” situation; it’s a process. Embrace the elastic nature of culture as it will change as your business grows and evolves, especially when hiring for “Culture Add” employees.

The early stages of growing your company are critical and there are a lot of moving parts. If you aren’t incredible at hiring or if you find the process too overwhelming or time-consuming, you should ask for help. Partner with an agency, like Linkus, to make sure all your bases are covered and you’re setting yourself (and your employees) up for success.

Have any insight to offer? Please share in the comments below.


about the author

Content Editor, FreshBooks Amanda is a content editor at FreshBooks, writing and producing blog content to help small business owners achieve their goals and enjoy (yes, actually enjoy!) running their business. Amanda’s background in education and customer support makes her a natural communicator who loves empowering others to succeed. When she’s not writing and editing content, Amanda takes her dog, Jonny, on adventures searching for the best coleslaw in Toronto.