How to build and hire an external technical team?

  • Raphael Ouzan is the founder and CEO of A.Team, a startup that pairs tech freelancers with businesses.
  • A.Team has raised $55 million in funding from investors such as Jay-Z and Adam Grant.
  • Ouzan says adaptability is extremely underrated and looks for people who jumped into roles instead of the 7-year Google veteran.
  • He also chooses to interview candidates through Slack, email, and other digital spaces rather than in person.
  • See more stories on Insider’s company page.

This as told essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Raphael Ouzan, the founder and CEO of A.Team. It has been edited for length and clarity.

We all know that teams matter. Every company is at least one team, often many more, but outside of sports teams, we haven’t developed the science and technology to create high-performing teams. It’s time we became more aware of building tech teams that can win, especially due to increasingly dispersed and remote offices.

My still-in-stealth startup, A.Team, is a network of independent developers, product managers, and other highly skilled technical professionals linked in teams to help companies develop new products and features.

When COVID-19 hit, my company had just graduated from the idea stage and I was starting to build my founding team and this community of tech builders.

We immediately received thousands of requests from designers, engineers and data scientists, and then it got real. We created teams left and right to help solve big problems like contact tracing and mass distribution of vaccines.

Hundreds of A.Teams later, I’m happy to share a few tips for hiring and building teams for this new era of work – even if some may seem counterintuitive.

Here are 3 things I think product leaders should do when building a team from scratch.

1. Look for adaptability

Adaptability is the most underrated skill of this century. Think about it, maybe you are looking at the best blockchain developer with great Web3 chops. Yes, that hard skill is very relevant right now.

But what about tomorrow?

What an applicant knows before being hired is irrelevant to me six months later. More importantly, how much they can learn in six months. I invest in adaptability – individuals who can change their focus or way of working as quickly as your company needs it.

It’s the same with experience – I don’t believe more means better. Often with experience comes even rigidity and inability to respond to change.

I’m actually looking for people who have hopped around a bit, either contracting or working for multiple companies. That way, they’ve had a chance to train that muscle of adaptability across different environments, cultures, and methodologies.

If you hire a typical seven-year veteran of Google, you’re probably going to end up with a great person — someone who’s super smart, super experienced. But do you have someone who can excel in a hyper-growth environment where reality changes every week?

Instead, I try to zoom in on moments in an applicant’s life when they had to significantly change themselves or their views in a new environment. I also ask people about their failures, because the most meaningful lessons come from the need to approach things differently. Businesses that will thrive in today’s changing climate need people who are open-minded and can learn extremely quickly.

2. Don’t interview candidates personally

Just because someone is really good at their job doesn’t mean they will be a great team member. The office is no longer the same as it used to be. It’s about oceans, time zones, on


, text messages and email exchanges. It’s been handed out. It’s remote and it’s asynchronous.

While we used to bring people into the office to see how they fit into the business, this obviously doesn’t work anymore. Your new office is online – that’s why I ask my team not to conduct the first interviews in person – even if they live next door.

For people you’re seriously considering, chat them up on your company’s Slack channels and have them communicate with you and the team in writing. For example, I’m hiring a head of talent. I forwarded a top candidate a few emails after she signed an NDA. I asked her for her opinion on things like sales commissions. She and I had a back and forth email, but we needed a little more, so I added her to a slack channel. I could immediately see how she interacted with people – and that she was not afraid to communicate or express her opinion.

You can tell a lot about a person by how quickly they respond, whether they offer short or long answers, and how well they get along with peers they’ve never met.

3. Look for mini CEOs

I don’t really believe in the “there are leaders and then there are doers” mindset for startups. Fast-paced environments call for a special kind of autonomous self-starters, with a vision and a desire for impact.

When your direction is to a team member to just “do”, the cross functionality stops. And then you get people who work in silos, not knowing how to get something from A to B. I build small teams with big missions – teams that move towards the vision and goals of the company.

This allows us to build more efficiently, but that is of course not always easy. We need to have the right processes, and more importantly, the right people.

There are three traits I look for when looking for someone’s inner CEO:

  • Optimism and empathy: There will be times when you are building something new and it will suck. Nothing works, and it feels like no one cares about what we’ve built. In these moments you need optimistic and empathetic people to persevere and not to blame each other.
  • To trust: Sometimes we come across a problem that we have no experience with. I’m looking for people who have the attitude and the strength to figure it out anyway. Even when they fail, they have learned something – and now they have experience solving that problem.
  • Self-sufficiency: In a multi-functional team, you might have a product manager, an engineer, a data scientist, a marketer, or someone else. Everyone brings a different piece to the team to achieve a specific goal. The beauty of it is that you start thinking in terms of results, rather than how many hours the team has worked. Having smaller teams work towards a goal reduces the overhead of coordination between teams. This allows you to move faster.

I want to choose what I work on, who I work with, and I want my work to make sense. I try to find like-minded individuals so that we can start building beautiful things from scratch. Looking for these qualities allows me to work with some of the most wonderful people in the world.

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