How to build a winning team for your growing startup

Did you know Steven Schuurman, the founder of Elastic, hired his first 300 employees? We sat down with seasoned entrepreneurs and experts as part of our Rise programme, to talk about leadership principles, company culture in a fast-growing startup, building a strong team. We unravelled their insights so you can take them with you. Wondering what’s happening during the Rise programme? With this series of articles, we peel back the curtain of our exclusive sessions where 11 leading Dutch tech entrepreneurs and scale experts join forces to break down the challenges around scaling a company. 

1. Don't underestimate the power of culture in your startup

So what exactly is workplace culture? To put it simply, it’s an accumulation of your business’ values and beliefs, it’s what makes you unique and is something that should be established from the moment you begin your journey - A clear mission statement that explores exactly what you stand for and how you want to be recognised. Despite the importance, it’s something that’s easy to lose sight of, particularly as you’re growing. Things can often get overwhelming as you scale and we see it time and time again, where a business forgets why they started on this path in the first place.

As teams grow it’s easy for separations to form between departments. As a leader, it’s up to you to create an environment and put things in place to ensure this culture remains a prominent part of your day-to-day operations. With that being said, at some point down the line, there may be a need to revisit your ideologies. In any business, but particularly in the tech world, things move fast, so don’t be afraid of fine-tuning. However when this does happen, allow your team to shape what these changes are, open up a dialogue, and make sure any adjustments are clearly communicated throughout. 

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to live and breathe that culture every single day. You must be the biggest example of why and how others should be embracing it themselves.


4 Talent top tips from Marloes Mantel, Talent director

  1. Create a safe environment so people feel free to give feedback and grow within the team. 
  2. Your role as a leader is to make sure that your team is frequently reminded about their impact on the business’ performance and success.
  3. Your employees must understand their role and the value they bring to your company.
  4. As a leader, you have the responsibility to maintain the level of inspiration to motivate and engage your teams.

2. Be involved in the first 100 hires (at least)

As a founder, setting aside time to involve yourself in the recruitment process is critical in ensuring you can attract the talent to bolster your company. If a person can see that extra effort, it can have a huge impact on influencing their final decision in terms of joining you. It also sets an early precedent that despite your position in the business, you’re still seen as an approachable figure and one that’s willing to make yourself available to your team. We’ll speak more about why that’s so important further on in this blog.

A strong and diverse recruitment strategy holds the possibility to completely shift your fortunes, to kickstart innovation, and boost morale throughout. Figuring out what it is you’re missing and finding the perfect talent to fill any gaps can make an enormous difference. Dedicate the time to your hiring process that it deserves. Yes, there are instances where talent will need to be brought in quickly, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice on quality. Speak to as many candidates as possible, listen to their stories and visions, make sure they’re a perfect fit otherwise you’ll have issues down the line and will have to go through the whole thing again. 

It’s also worth remembering that the days of a person staying in one job for their whole career are long gone. The Silicon Valley attitude of freedom when it comes to employment has a big influence on the tech world, so being agile in the recruitment market is a must.


Don't fall in love too quickly with the first candidate. Take your time and speak to as many people as you can. The first hires are very important for your company - I've hired the first 300 people at Elastic.

Steven Schuurman, Founder @ Elastic

3. Build a strong workplace trust

Your team is your backbone, everything you do relies on them and if they’re not motivated you have a huge problem. Allowing your team autonomy is an extremely important step in displaying your trust in them. Whether it’s allowing different people to lead on projects, or offering flexible working hours, it benefits no one to have someone constantly looking over their shoulder.

That isn’t to say you can’t support, or be there to lean on should an employee need you - but this stems back to ensuring your recruitment strategy is up to scratch. If you’re bringing in the right people, there shouldn’t be any worries about them being self-sufficient and performing when left to their own devices.

This is where growth and recognition become extremely important. Schedule regular catch-ups in which you can form a more accurate understanding of your people both personally and professionally. It’s easy to become disillusioned when it isn’t clear what you’re contributing to the bigger picture, so offering that reassurance that work is valued can go a long way in promoting confidence.

Set clear and fair goals, layout a roadmap for new and existing staff and when the time comes, offer fitting rewards and progression in terms of both salary and seniority.


When we talk about loyalty it is also important that scaleup founders understand that lifetime employment is not what we (should) strive for anymore. Nowadays, we make people build great resumes.

Kristel Moedt, Co-owner @ People Masterminds

4. Show vulnerability to build a stronger team

As a leader it’s your responsibility to tie all of this together, to act as the composer of the team you’ve assembled, providing the tools and environment they need to excel. Striking the right balance between authority and vulnerability is crucial. While you should, of course, be seen as a leader, it’s integral that your employees feel they’re able to approach and raise any issues when necessary. 

Not only will it breed a much more comfortable and engaging working environment, encouraging your team to speak up allows you to step in and make changes where needed, potentially stopping small issues from developing into anything bigger. Ultimately good leadership comes down to caring. No one expects you to have the answers to every question, but if your team can see you’re being transparent with them - and that there is mutual respect, they’re far more likely to go the extra mile for you.

Right now, most businesses will be feeling understandably uncertain about the future. The effects of coronavirus look set to last for months, even years to come. More than ever before the need to discover and embrace the best talent in your sector is a matter of make or break. If you aren’t putting the time in when it comes to improving and motivating your team, it’s certain that one of your competitors will. 


What's your fear? If you are a bad employer people will leave you, if you're a good one people will stay.

Eveliese Luiting, Co-owner @ People Masterminds

9 Questions with Steven Schuurman

What qualifies a good leader? What topics does a leader own? And how to deal with people who cannot keep up with growth?
Steven Schuurman answers these questions and more on our People & Culture Scaleup Guide.

Watch now

Are you ready to Rise?

Do you also want to get access to those exclusive sessions where founders and scale experts break down the biggest hurdles about scaling? Are you looking for a trusted group of peers to discuss and exchange tips & tricks? Then check now if your company is eligible for the #TechleapRise programme.

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