From the Ground-Up: Human Resources 101 for Startups

In this guest post, Erin Osterhaus, Managing Editor at The New Talent Times reveals how one start-up built a flourishing HR department from scratch.

For many startups, human resources tends to be the last item on the agenda when getting their business off the groundin the beginning most tend to focus their limited resources on generating revenue and drawing attention to their brand. But, as the company starts to grow, managing employees becomes more complex.

So how can your company navigate the tough transition from bootstrapped startup to flourishing business? Erin Osterhaus, an HR Analyst at Software Advicea website that reviews HR software—decided to find out. She sat down with Kim Rohrer, Disqus’ Head of People Operations, to learn how to develop an HR department once your startup begins to gain steam, and employees.

Disqus, a company that provides blog comment hosting services for websites and online communities, went through its own startup growing pains. When Rohrer started out at Disqus in 2010, the company had no HR department to speak of. However, Rohrer successfully  spearheaded the development of the company’s HR division while maintaining the same momentum and efficiency that allowed Disqus to grow in the first place. She offered the following tips for other startups going through similar growing pains:

Define Departmental Responsibilities

At Disqus, as at many startups, the company had a “flat” culture in the beginning. According to Rohrer, this meant that there were no managers or directors. As the company grew, this “flatness” became a problem. The CEO couldn’t oversee the activities of all the employees as he had been doing. Instead, he and Rohrer worked closely to create some a management structure. They defined roles for leaders for their Product Development, Engineering, and Advertising teams.

The added hierarchy improved communication between departments and helped Disqus function at a higher level. It also helped ensure that all employees’ concerns and questions could be addressed by HR if needed, and has helped avoid HR issues and complications. As such, Rohrer suggests appointing leaders of teams early on. Having some form of a management structure will assist your startup as it grows—the CEO can’t manage everyone once you start growing beyond a core team.

Build a Killer HR Team

You can’t create a killer team without people. And who finds people? Recruiters. So, from the start, Rohrer suggests making an effort to hire a designated recruiter to find the employees your company will need to succeed.

Additionally, Rohrer suggests filling out your HR team with an office manager. As Rohrer says, when she started at Disqus, she was a sort of Jill-of-all-trades.” She organized office supplies, company events, IT, and sometimes even took on facilities maintenance. This sort of disjointed job functionality prevented her from focusing on more strategic HR functions, like developing Disqus’ company culture and improving employees’ job satisfaction. Once she hired an office manager—using her recently hired recruiter—she could focus on making Disqus a great place to work.

Develop a Support Group

The rapid growth of startups can be a challenging time for HR teams. Rohrer’s final tip is to ensure you have a support community to learn from during this important transition phase.

In fact, Rohrer believes this so strongly, that she helped create Organization Organizers, a network of business operations professionals that hosts learning and development events, and serves as a forum for its members to share their HR experiences.  “No one should have to reinvent the wheel,” Rohrer says. “If we all learn and grow together, the entire industry does better.”

The full interview can be found on Software Advice’s Talent Management blog, The New Talent Times.






Four Steps To A More Dynamic Workplace At Your Startup

Working on a new venture can be an inspiring and intensely rewarding experience. However, whilst you’re starting up and trying things out, efficiency may suffer. Every little helps, so Peter Ames from Office Genie is here to help with a few tips that could boost productivity.

Start-up workers at a Herzliya accelerator (Photo credit: Times of Israel)


Go paperless

Invest in a cloud-based document storage system such as Google Drive or Microsoft’s Skydrive (both are free in their basic packages – so it shouldn’t be too much of an investment). In addition to allowing you to store all your data and documents digitally in a free online drive, with both of these you can also share documents between staff.

This is a real bonus, it means you may not have to print off reams of paper before a meeting; everyone can access notes online, something that also makes collaboration that bit easier. In addition, going paperless, with the help of one of these apps, give you the chance to make your business a little greener in its early stages, when such things are easier to implement.

Go remote

One of the further benefits of going paperless, and particularly of using a cloud-based document storage system, is that it can make working remotely much easier: You can access all your documents from anywhere with a good internet connection. It makes working on the move or out of the office much more convenient.

There are whole host of ways remote-working can benefit a startup and make staff that bit more productive:

  • You can have a smaller office space if you don’t have to house a full team. Save some money and pump it back into the business.
  • Some tasks just aren’t suited to an office. If you’ve got editorial staff let them work from home every so often where they might find relief from ‘the office buzz’.
  • Even a simple change of scenery can stop things from stagnating and keep staff inspiration flowing.

Do more with your to-do lists

Of course, one step to a more efficient business is to get staff to keep to-do lists. If increasing numbers of your employees are working from home, it makes sense to have them keep to-do lists they can access from anywhere. This is where apps such as Evernote or Wunderlist comes into their own.

They’re a note-taking apps that let you access your notes (i.e. your to-do lists) wherever, whenever and on whatever device. Both have an app for pretty much all major devices and operating systems. You can also share notes over email; making these a handy app to have open in a meeting!

And whilst we’re on the subject of to-do lists…

Look into an online tool such as Basecamp. On the face of it this is just another to-do list app, albeit a particularly useful one that allows you to create any number of lists and sub-lists and tick tasks off when they’re done. The real beauty of Basecamp is the collaborative nature of the tool. When you’ve added a task, you can assign it to a fellow member of staff and add comments as the project progresses.

It’s also worth considering alternative such as Workzone, this offers you most of the key collaborative features of Basecamp with the addition of things such as ‘Time tracking’ and ‘Workload reports’ so staff can make sure they’re not focusing all their energy into one task.

Peter Ames writes on behalf of, a site where you can find desk and office space in the United Kingdom