A startup is a rapidly evolving organism. Things change, and, if everything is going well, grow so quickly a year feels like a decade. For many entrepreneurs, these early adrenaline-fueled days can be a messy period of trial and error. Which is ok! Learning by doing isn’t a bad strategy.
That said, it’s helpful to learn from other founders who have gone through the same process, particularly when it comes to hiring. Identifying the roles you need to create and the people you need to fill them determines what your business can—and will—become.
In the second of a three part series, the founders of Brooklyn ice cream spot Ample Hills share what the experience has taught them about hiring and managing employees early on.
Name: Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith
Business: Ample Hills Creamery, an ice cream maker based in Brooklyn.
Founded in: 2011
Number of employees: Full-time employees: 56. Ice cream scoopers (in the summer): Around 200
When Ample Hills Creamery opened its doors in 2011, founders Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith were worried no one would show up. In the ice cream maker’s salad days, the husband-and-wife team hired friends, family, and Cuscuna’s students (she was a highschool teacher at the time).
A boyfriend of one of her students was an early hire. He started as a scooper, and is now a full-time chef. “He makes ice cream everyday,” she says.
Allowing people to grow with the company is a point of pride. “A $10-an-hour scooper is now the head of the art department,” Smith says. Their regional retail manager also started as a scooper. Promoting from within has its own challenges: namely, everyone is figuring it out on the job, which can lead to mistakes that would have been avoided with outside experience.
But both Cuscuna and Smith stress that they started the ice cream company because they wanted to create a sense of community. This means promoting from within, and “learning together,” Smith says.
Ample Hills, which has nine locations, recently raised $8 million in Series A round led by Rosecliff Ventures. To secure the funding, the founders had to sit down and put into words a cultural identity and ethos that, until this point, had felt organic, and present it to investors. They’re now in the process of striking the right balance between keeping things casual and largely based on gut-feel and standardizing operations, particularly when it comes to hiring. For now, the company doesn’t have a set of questions it asks applicants—but Cuscuna and Smith say they’re grappling with formalizing the process, particularly as they continue to grow.
You will hire the wrong person. It’s unavoidable. Don’t beat yourself up about it. But, in general, Smith says “if you hire for culture with some awareness of skillset it will work out.”