A generalist is someone who can do many things reasonably well. A specialist is someone who has deeply mastered one or two topics.
If you’re an entrepreneur starting a company, which one do you want?
The truth is that if you start your startup with the right people, there’s no need to choose between generalists and specialists.
The article describes the common traits of generalists and specialists, how they can work together effectively, and how to find and hire both kinds of people for your startup company.
Different Types of People: Generalists and Specialists
Most people are either generalists or specialists. Which type are you? And what kind of person should you hire to help grow your company? Let’s take a look at the difference between those two types of people.
What is a Generalist?
Generalists are very good at doing lots of things but not necessarily great at any particular thing.
They know enough about everything that they can tackle any task that comes their way — whether it be writing code, designing websites, or selling products on social media platforms — but they don’t necessarily have any particular expertise in any field.
This makes them very useful for startups, which are often small and need as many talented people as possible.
What is a Specialist?
Specialists are the opposite of generalists. They have expertise in one area and can master that field better than anyone else.
Because of this, if you have a specialist on your team, you’re going to accomplish much more than you would otherwise be able to do (assuming your specialist is not a bottleneck in some way).
That’s why specialists are so valuable in big companies — they can create new products or innovate old ones quickly and efficiently.
That’s also why they can be so hard to recruit for startups: if someone has spent their whole career working in one area, they might not want to switch gears and learn something completely new.
But if you can find someone comfortable with change, you will get the most out of them.
Generalists vs. Specialists: How do they Work Together?
Should you hire specialists or generalists? It turns out that neither type of person is better than the other — it all depends on what kind of company you want to build and how much money you have available for hire.
A startup should hire generalists.
As a startup, you don’t have much money to spend on hiring. It’s better to hire generalists — and then train them in the areas where they are weak.
If you don’t have the money for that, then there are certain areas that you should prioritize over others.
For example, if your company is making a mobile app, it makes sense to hire someone who knows how to code (and has experience with the particular platform you’re targeting).
That way, you get a product out faster — and then can hire people later on who know how to market or sell it.
A big company with lots of cash should hire specialists.
Big companies have much cash in the bank — and they can afford specialists because they have more resources available for training and educating new hires.
Of course, as a company grows, it becomes harder to keep track of all its specialists and maintain their expertise, so there is still something to be said for hiring generalists in those situations as well.
In fact, for large companies that are reliant on innovation and good ideas from their employees (like Google), it might make the most sense to hire specialists and generalists at the same time.
That way, one of the specialists can develop an idea (like a new type of software), and then a generalist can put it in motion.
How to Find and Hire Generalists and Specialists
There are two ways you can find the right kind of people for your startup. One involves going out and searching for them.
The other involves getting them to come to you. Let’s look at both options in more detail.
Hiring Generalists: How to Find People That Can Do many Things
Generalists are people who do many things — so if you want to hire one, it helps if you have an idea of what you’re looking for in particular.
For example, if your company is making mobile apps, you should be looking for someone who knows how to code in a popular mobile language like Objective-C or Swift and knows how to design apps for the platform that your company is targeting (iPhones or Android devices).
It’s not enough to know how to code — because they will also need experience designing beautiful, functional apps that people will want to download and use regularly.
To find generalists, you will need to recruit them, which means spreading the word about your company and the kind of work.
For example, on Twitter or Facebook, you can use hashtags like #jobs or #hiring to get the word out about what kind of people you’re looking for. You can also post job openings on sites like Indeed, Dice, Monster, and LinkedIn.
In addition to these sites, there are also plenty of specialized job websites specifically for startups — such as Startup-jobs and AngelList — that might be worth checking out.
Hiring Specialists: How to Find Big Companies That Have Lots of Cash
Specialists are people who have spent their entire careers focusing on a particular area — so if you want one for your startup company, then it makes sense to go directly to a big company where they are already working.
For example, if your startup is making an app for Android phones, then it’s a good idea to go directly to Google or Apple and see if they know of any specialists working there that might be interested in joining your team (or even just helping out temporarily).
Of course, this strategy only works if the company has a big enough budget to hire a specialist to begin with — because specialists can be hard to find.
To find specialists, you will need to go to big companies and ask around for them or see if they have open positions available.
You can do this by visiting the websites of companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook (all of which are well known for hiring many specialists) and looking for open positions that might fit your needs.
In addition to these big tech companies, there are also plenty of other large companies that have lots of cash available: investment banks like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, consulting firms like McKinsey & Company or Boston Consulting Group, and even investment management firms like Bain Capital are all good places to look when you’re trying to find specialists.
Hiring Generalists vs. Specialists: What Startup Founders Should Know
As a startup founder, there are four things that you should know about generalists vs. specialists.
First off, it’s better to hire generalists than specialists — because they’re easier to train on new skills than someone who has spent their entire career working in one area.
Second off, if you want your startup to be successful, it’s important to hire both generalists and specialists to work for you. It would help if you had the ideas and innovation of a specialist and also the execution and discipline of a generalist (to make things happen).
Third, if you can afford it, you should hire specialists because they can get more done in less time than someone who doesn’t have any particular training in that area.
Finally, if you want to find specialists, go straight to big companies because they are more likely to have cash available to hire them than startups.
What do you think? Are there other facts about generalists vs. specialists that startup founders should know? If so, share them with me by leaving a comment!
About the Author
I am the Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students learn better. I am also a mentor and angel investor in other Startups of my other interests (Proptech, Fintech, HRtech, Ride-hailing, C2C marketplaces, and SaaS). You can also find me on Cudy for early-stage Startup Founder mentorship and advice.
You can connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderlhk) and let me know that you are a reader of my Medium posts in your invitation message.