Building Your Startup's Sales Team: The First 5 Hires You Need to Make

You build and make demos, and forget about customer-facing roles. Here are the 5 key hires that will jumpstart your revenue machine.

Pancrazio Auteri

Jun 13, 2024

The first hires biking fast with the founders.
The first hires biking fast with the founders.

I have a friend that lives in Palo Alto. He often invites me to help his mentees to find ways to accelerate product-market fit or to work on communicating the product value. This time we were at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, meeting with a promising startup with their product already in the market.

After 10 minutes in the meeting he asks: "If you, the founders, are here, who is selling?" – The CEO, trying to align with the joke, said that sales were "on pause" until our meeting was over. And then my friend says "Ok, here's my advise. Adjourn this meeting and go build a sales process that keeps going even while you're in a meeting with me, now".

As a startup advisor, former co-founder and product leader in several tech organizations, I've seen firsthand the common pitfalls that many early-stage SaaS companies face. One of the most significant missteps is neglecting to focus on customer-facing roles early in the hiring process. Founders, including myself, often focus on building products or assembling a talented team of engineers, leaving the sales pipeline to languish and suffer. I want you to avoid this mistake.

A startup is a temporary organization, not yet a business. Its life depends on cash. And what's the best source of cash? Client revenues! To get the cash you need to stay alive and postpone the need for expensive capital. It’s vital to make strategic hires that drive revenue from the outset.

Here’s my advice on the first five hires you should make to set your startup on the path to success.

1. Digital Marketer or Content Creator

Once you've built a product you're proud of, the next step is to shout about it from the rooftops. Enter the digital marketer or content creator. This individual will develop a library of assets – blog posts, explainer videos, marketing materials – that educate and inspire potential customers. In my experience, founders who invest in content creation early on set themselves apart in the crowded SaaS market.

As an example, look at Michael Ortega's work with Predibase. If you're in his target market, it's hard to avoid his content.

Look for someone with a knack for translating your vision into compelling stories across various channels. They should be able to produce content that positions you as a thought leader, attracting attention and driving engagement. This is an investment worth making early rather than later, as effective content can speed up your visibility and credibility, opening doors to opportunities like speaking engagements and media coverage.

2. Sales Development Representatives (SDRs)

Next on the list are sales development representatives (SDRs). These mid-level professionals focus on setting up qualified meetings with prospects, generating the pipeline needed to drive sales. Hiring two SDRs at the same time can be a smart move. You can compare productivity and ensure continuity if one hire doesn’t work out.

SDRs are not closers but qualifiers. They manage inbound inquiries and ensure potential customers are a good fit for your product. With the content created by your digital marketer, SDRs can engage prospects and set up discovery calls. As the founder, you can then attend these meetings and show your passion in selling your product or service. SDR's work is vital to feed the sales pipeline with consistent speed and lead quality. This will protect your time from meeting unqualified prospects that will not buy.

3. Quota-Carrying Sales Representative

While founder-led sales are crucial in the early days, this approach isn't sustainable long-term. That’s where a quota-carrying sales representative comes in. This mid-level hire should have a proven track record of closing deals and a willingness to roll up their sleeves. They should also show potential for future leadership roles, such as head of sales.

A great sales rep will immediately seek out content and collateral to aid in their selling efforts, demonstrating their understanding of how to win over prospects. If your SDRs have generated enough pipeline, you might consider hiring two sales reps to keep up with demand. As a founder, you can then focus on the most significant deals, leaving day-to-day sales to your capable rep.

4. Revenue Operations Lead

Once your initial sales team is in place, it’s time to bring in a revenue operations lead. This senior manager-level hire will put in place your CRM and integrate your technology stack, ensuring your sales processes can scale. They will also manage marketing automation platforms, data providers, and sales engagement tools to support both inbound and outbound demand generation.

Look for someone with experience in setting up these systems at larger companies. They should know best practices for demand generation and be able to transition your team to a process-driven sales operation. A robust revenue operations setup ensures leads are well nurtured, giving you a competitive edge in the market.

5. Customer Success Representative

Finally, as you onboard your first customers, a customer success representative becomes critical. This role ensures customers receive immediate value from your product, driving retention and facilitating renewals. In the B2B world, where software solutions can be complex, customer success is vital for maintaining satisfaction and identifying opportunities for upselling and cross-selling.

Customer Success is also crucial to build up your retention, the only metric that counts for product-market fit.

Your customer success rep should be someone who aspires to a future managerial role. They will work with your sales team, taking over customer relationships post-sale and ensuring ongoing value delivery. Successful customer success efforts lead to happy, loyal customers who are more likely to expand their use of your product.


Building a scalable revenue operation starts with the right hires in the right order. By prioritizing customer-facing roles early on, you can avoid common pitfalls and set your startup on the path to success. Focus on these five key hires—digital marketer or content creator, sales development representatives, quota-carrying sales representative, revenue operations lead, and customer success representative—to drive revenue, achieve cash-positive status, and build a strong foundation for future growth.

Remember, the nuances of your specific business may need adjustments to this order, but keeping these roles in mind will help you create a balanced, effective sales team from the start. By doing so, you'll be better positioned to scale, attract investment, and succeed in the competitive SaaS market.

Ad maiora! 🚀

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