- Dane Atkinson has nearly three decades of experience with entrepreneurship.
- At his new startup, executives have come from jobs at WeWork, Starbucks, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
- He shared his advice for other small-business owners looking to build an all-star executive team.
- This article is part of Talent Insider, a series containing expert advice to help small business owners tackle a range of hiring challenges.
Serial entrepreneur Dane Atkinson has spent his entire career trying to help small businesses thrive and grow.
As the founder of software company Odeko, a current mentor at the accelerator program Techstars, and the former CEO of the website platform Squarespace, Atkinson has nearly three decades of experience with entrepreneurship, which helped him attract top talent for his latest venture.
In 2019, Atkinson launched Odeko, which aims to help coffee shops and other food-service businesses by managing online ordering, inventory audits, and payment infrastructure, among other tasks. Today Odeko has 470 employees, including an executive team of six made up of former employees from Starbucks, WeWork, Squarespace, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
“The strength of your team is the biggest indicator of future success at the earliest stages,” Atkinson said, adding that he encourages all small-business owners to prioritize these types of hires.
Atkinson spoke with Insider about the importance of building a robust executive team and how to attract top talent to your small business.
Be proactive in making relationships
Atkinson is always recruiting, even if he’s not looking to fill a specific position at the time, he said.
“You should be searching for the best people you can work with at all times and share the vision of what you want to get to,” Atkinson said. By explaining your concepts and goals, you can build relationships with candidates so you have people in mind when it’s time to hire.
Many of his hires have come from months or years of check-ins and catch-ups, where he shares what Odeko is doing and gathers feedback from those he admires. Organic collaboration and communication allow him to see when a potential employee is the right fit.
For example, Atkinson fostered a relationship with Nicole Mozeliak, who worked at Starbucks for 13 years, before hiring her as Odeko’s chief operating officer.
“She had such vast experience with Starbucks that was relevant to what we’re trying to do, I found a way to get time with her and her perspective in the business,” he said. “We stayed in touch and started to develop a relationship that would finally make sense for us to work together.”
It’s important to build a team based on who you know and trust, he added.
“Of the first five employees, you want to have three that you’ve worked with before,” he said. For example, he brought employees from his last company to Odeko and has since recruited others from past jobs to join the team.
Small-businesses owners should lean in to what they can offer
As entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to decide when to make a hire or invest in growing the team, Atkinson said. “But I always encourage folks to try to use their capital for people when they can,” he added.
However, small-business owners often don’t have the same budgets for hiring or perks, he said. With that in mind, founders need to lean in to other aspects of the business to attract talent.
“For startups, the perk is the growth curve,” Atkinson said.
In his experience, he’s noticed folks from larger companies often feel stagnant in their current roles. If they aren’t ready to leave their current gigs, he encourages them to explicitly set future career goals, he said.
If they haven’t reached those milestones within the next few months, he reminds them that the purpose of their career includes personal success, not just that of the company, and pitches his business as their next step.
“I always sell the startup lifestyle as a career accelerant,” he said. Other founders can employ similar conversations and tactics when looking to generate their own team of top talent.
Retain top employees by investing in their growth
Many business owners have a difficult time letting go of responsibility, Atkinson said. But delegating tasks to another team member is a necessary step in retaining talent, he added.
“The ability to attract all-stars has been knowing that they’re going to do it better than I am,” Atkinson said. “I can feel comfortable giving them the freedom to run.”
Atkinson accomplishes this by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with leaders at Odeko and asking how they’re developing and if they’re getting the experiences they hoped to see in this chapter of their careers, he said.
For example, he asks questions pertaining to challenges they want to take on or business systems they want to experience.
“You have to attend to it,” Atkinson said of employees’ personal goals. “If you don’t, you end up losing them and that is a huge cost to an organization, even more so for a startup.”