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Why startups need joiners

How some of the world’s most famous companies became successful by encouraging a "joiner culture"


Entrepreneurs often receive a great deal of recognition for stepping out and starting businesses. But what about the people who join a startup because they believe in the founder’s vision?

Numerous studies on entrepreneurship are now finding that although there is a trend towards more people starting businesses, not everyone has to start their own company. Entrepreneurs need so-called “joiners” to help them grow successful businesses.

Every entrepreneur needs a joiner because they:

Bring valuable skills to a new business.
Aren’t that interested in a management role.
Perform well in roles such as research and development or driving commercialisation of products. 

Bring in joiners at senior level

This is the advice of Stuart Thomas, a senior reporter from Ventureburn who specialises in writing about entrepreneurship.

Take a look at Eric Schmidt's role when he joined Google. For a number of years, Schmidt's job responsibilities included building the corporate infrastructure needed to maintain Google's rapid growth as a company. That allowed Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to continue developing Google's various products.

Another example is Jony Ive. He joined Apple in 1992 and, together with Steve Jobs, helped set the company's design agenda from 1997 onward.

Introducing good chemistry into a business

Thomas says that founders know the original vision behind a business, but joiners can take a company in a new direction that a founder could never have anticipated.

Before Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, joined the company the social networking site’s main focus was being trendy. “Her focus was not to change the soul of Facebook, but on what could be done to make it profitable,” he explains.

Am I a founder or a joiner?

He says founders and joiners are more similar than most people think. “People often join startups for the same reasons that people found them. They like the risk, the increased responsibility, they enjoy challenges and also the opportunity for big rewards,” he says.  Many joiners go on to establish startups of their own - a large number of early Facebook employees fall into this category.

Do the right thing for the business at the right time

Nicola Neal, head of SME Development at the Riversands Incubation Hub, says an entrepreneur can decide what kind of joiner the business needs by evaluating the immediate needs of the business. For example, your business might lack skills in sales, marketing, or product development.

“Every entrepreneur will reach a point where they realise that they can no longer do everything themselves, but not all businesses will need the same joiner to help them grow,” Neal says. It all depends on what you need to take your business forward.

Joiners help to grow a business faster

Sello Makhamate, founder of Zila Steel, who started his business with the help of the Riversands Incubation Hub, is a good example of how business owners can decide if they need joiners. Makhamate realised that he needed to increase his steel manufacturing capacity by hiring a technically competent welder. Without this joiner he wouldn’t be able to grow his business by taking on more projects.

Consider outsourcing if you can’t afford a joiner

If a business is still small, the owner might not be in a position to offer a joiner a salary.  However, this isn’t an insurmountable problem. Neal says entrepreneurs should look at the priorities and strengths of their business and consider outsourcing a function if there isn’t sufficient volume of work to warrant a full-time employee.

“Because most entrepreneurs face financial challenges in their businesses, I also encourage them to weigh up the cost of a full-time employee vs outsourcing the bookkeeping function, for example,” she says.

Keep in mind that if your business is experiencing a busy period, that could end if a project is completed. Before hiring a full-time employee, consider the cash flow implications and projected income over a longer period than a couple of months. Outsourcing helps a business owner to keep overheads low, but still benefit from the knowledge sharing and skills transfer that an external expert can offer. 

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