Employees to The Rescue! 3 Stories of Worker-Saved Startups

February 27, 2014

2:58 pm

Look at the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the super team you need to save your startup! For the entrepreneur, the right team rarely falls out of the sky. But having the right people at your side can be the difference between success and failure — as some startups found out the hard way.

Even our favorite superheroes need a great team to save the day. Look at the Avengers or the Justice League. If The Hulk and Superman need a little help, it’s likely you won’t be able to troubleshoot all your early issues solo.

Don’t believe me? Here are three stories of worker-saved startups:

The Intern Who Named The Company

The team at Curalate didn’t begin tracking analytics for sites like Instagram and Pinterest. The company began as Storably, an Airbnb model for storage and parking. They knew they had a good idea, got capital, and waited for customers to come rolling in. But they never did.

So before the company could turn into a zombie they called time-of-death and pivoted to a new idea. There was only one problem – their new company had no name. While the team brainstormed ideas, most of these ended up centering around the visual social media site Pinterest. Clearly a name tied to one social media platform, however, would be likely to back the brand new company into a corner.

Enter the intern. A rising senior at the nameless startup, David was the first one to suggest the name Curalate. The team loved the name and quickly embraced it.

“It really helped differentiate us and demonstrate that our vision was about images, not just a specific platform,” said Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Curalate.

Not many companies can say they were saved by an intern. And not many interns can see such a lasting effect of their time at the company.

The Team That Chose Passion Over Pay

Will your team work for free? They did at TOA Technologies, a software company helping mobile employees get to the right appointment on time. The company’s first employee, Hamid Hajibashi,  was someone the founders had worked with at a previous venture. After telling Hamid the idea for the company, he was so excited he wanted to know what he could do to help.

The company certainly needed to bring talent like Hamid within its walls, but the only problem was pay. With only a big idea and very little money, there wasn’t a budget to pay Hamid for his hard work. But TOA’s first employee was so passionate, he decided to stick around anyway. Hamid deferred a salary and volunteered for nine whole months until the company had signed its first client.

The company’s first employee was essentially “donating time,” according to CEO and co-founder Yuval Brisker.  Eventually other employees would follow Hamid’s lead, allowing the company to build up a talented roster of people before it could afford expensive salaries. Finding talented people to work for free is not normal, but the passion of these employees helped shape the company.

“These very first TOA employees, like Hamid, saved our startup before it ever really existed,” said Brisker.

The Team With a Unique Mix

Sometimes a seasoned startup team just needs the right ingredients. This was the case with Cooking Planit, an app that makes cooking easier. While building the cooking app, the team experienced major development delays which set the whole project back considerably. So co-founder Tripp Wiggins decided he need someone he knew rocked…which is why he reached out to an old bandmate.

Phil Melito played in a rock band with Wiggins in the 90s, but has a developed a much wider skill set since. Now a developer, Melito jumped in with both feet to address the design challenges inherent in building Cooking Planit. Unlike the contract developers the team had been using, Melito actually used the beta version of the product because he cared about its success. This allowed him to isolate shortcomings and suggest solutions. Wiggins’ old bandmate, a good chef himself, was the perfect mix of product knowledge and technical skills.

“His deep understanding of the product, his work ethic and overall love for what we were doing, saved the project in my mind,” Wiggins said. “If we had to start over with another team, we would have lost six to eight months more than we did with the transition.”

Melito is now Vice President of Product Development, proving the mobile application only needed the right mixture of tech skills and cooking wizardry to rise.

Hiring A Super Team For Your Startup

How do you ensure you hire the best super friends for your startup? Here are three things to look for when hiring:

  • Passion: Maybe your employees won’t work for free, but you need to look for candidates who have passion for your company, its mission statement, and the industry in general.

  • Diversity: You don’t want someone who thinks just like you do. Look for candidates with diverse backgrounds and outside-the-box ideas.

  • Company culture fit: You need someone who will stick around for the long haul. In the interview stage, whether in person or via online video, ask questions to gauge if the candidate fits into your culture.

Do you have a story to share about your team saving the day? What do you look for when hiring for your startup? Share in the comments!

Guest author Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

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