Who should a startup hire first? Sales Reps, Engineers, or Product Managers?


This is a tricky question and everyone in Sales, Engineering, and Product Management feel their contribution to the organization is (strategically?) important and hence should be hired first.

Well, let’s take each job category and analyze its importance as it pertains to a startup — of course, we will exclude Operations and Support teams such as HR, Finance, Admin, Customer Support, et al.

Sales: Traditionally, Sales folks believe they are the “darlings” of the organization and sell anything (even stars on the sky!) to sign a deal. What they really do not understand is the ability of their organization to meet customer commitments on product delivery and sustain the product post-sales. So, a lack of understanding of the following items puts them in the back seat to be hired first in a startup: Current product offerings, clarity on roadmap, lack of understanding of the go-to market needs, unable to decide what product has to be proposed to which customer, etc.

Engineering: Well, this is an easy nut to crack. What will an engineer build if he does not know what is to be built? Engineering will need guidance from a market/customer facing team on what should be built. So, Engineers need not be hired first.

Product Management: When any company understands the importance of Product Management, it gives Product Managers full freedom to define and own “Product Strategy” which comprises of the traditional four P’s (Product, Price, Place, & Promotion). We could include another P to represent the market/customer Problem that is intended to be solved. Of course, the Product Managers will work with various stakeholders with supporting research material to build Product Strategy. Engineering will build the product and Sales will then sell it. In effect, Sales and Engineering are really “supporting and execution teams” to Product Management in executing the organization’s product strategy.

So, the winner is Product Management — startups should hire Product Managers first.

Thoughts welcome!