Hiring a staff, or even a single employee, can be a particularly fraught experience for a food entrepreneur. Bringing someone on to a team that’s currently just you, or just a few founders, brings questions of company culture and forces you to modify or hand over processes that you may have developed yourself. It’s easy to start to panic – but you shouldn’t. Building a team can be one of the most rewarding parts of business ownership, and with the addition of extra hands, you have the opportunity to be better than ever before.
We sat down with Eric Holstein, a total food & beverage guru and someone who has founded everything from a s’mores cart to a food incubator. He knows exactly how difficult it is to bring new members to a food team, and he has some great advice that you won’t want to miss.
Are there any particular industries that you are looking for experience in when you’re hiring for a food team?
This might be self-explanatory, but I always try to look for some experience in the food industry. Not necessarily any experience related to the actual position, but I’ve always felt that any food industry job gives a person a certain grit and understanding of how unglamorous the food industry actually is. Even if they were a busboy in college – sometimes I weigh that higher than an MBA.
Can you talk about how you’ve set expectations for employees that haven’t worked in a startup environment before?
Start-up jobs are all over the place, so typically I try to stress that it’s going to be a horrible job. You need to make sure the candidate understands that the job description is a guideline, not a set of tasks, and if they’re joining a smaller start-up they need to be ready to just jump in.
I read an article a few years back about the 7 things to consider when hiring (The 7 C’s), and it’s a good way to make sure your employee is a good fit. Those include competency, capability, compatibility, commitment, character, culture and compensation.
What are the best resources for small business owners looking to hire?
The SBA! The Small Business Association has the best resources out there – they’re completely free, and the SBA’s goal is to promote job growth through small businesses, so they are inherently dedicated to making your hiring process go well.
In terms of job boards, I’ve always liked Good Food Jobs – postings are relatively inexpensive, and their website features great content and interviews. GFJ makes you feel like you’re choosing from the best applicants out there. Culinary Agents is also useful, and the candidates on there seem to be tailored.
Do you have any advice for founders who have a tough time giving up control of aspects of the business to new employees?
It’s always tricky – you own it, and it’s your baby – but everyone has skill sets, every single person. No founder is amazing at everything. Most likely, the best thing a founder could be doing is talking about the product and bringing enthusiasm to people! I think founders should pass work off to others as quickly as possible.
If you’re a cook, hire a sales team and save your time to make the best product. If you’re in love with the brand, hire an operator who can handle the nitty-gritty for you.
If you think you can do everything better than everyone else, it’s just not true.
What are some hiring mistakes that you made early in your career?
When I first started hiring a long time ago, everyone’s advice was to “find someone who’s a culture fit,” and I subscribed to that without understanding what it meant. You don’t want people who are like you – you want different skill sets, different cultures, and different viewpoints.
The “culture fit” that matters is the commitment and passion to what you’re doing. if you’re a juice company, find someone who loves the reasons why you’re making juice, and who wants to work as hard as you want them to work. Where you fail is hiring people who look and act exactly like you.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of doing background checks and checking references. An employee represents your company, you want to make sure there isn’t anything that can damage your reputation. If there isn’t a reference from their last employer, ask why. Nowadays, it’s pretty reasonable to order a background check.