I advise a number of early stage startups and I’m interested in hearing opinions from founders, advisors, and startup employees.
Which hires really moved the needle for your companies? There can be a tendency to hire biz dev/sales to jump-start revenue growth, but what have your experiences been with hiring more engineers to perfect the product, or marketing people to get your name out?
I’d like to hear about your first hires and how they helped move your companies forward.
This is an impossible to answer question without knowing what the startup is doing, what the challenges are, and who are the founders. If the founders are technical/developers it is important to have someone who understand the business. If they are business people you are probably missing a technical person. If you are a community based startup, you will need to find someone who can develop communities, and so forth. Any template-based answer that is not based on analyzing the specific needs of the startup will be a disservice
I have had to work with two new tech companies in the last 5 years, and one thing I can tell you is that if you're a tech company, hire an in-house developer. The more you can hire, the better because it increases efficiency and throughput. Or at least, get a full-stack developer. In both companies I worked with, I was a full-stack developer. That meant I handled everything. But I could only do so much as the only guy. So go for more, at least two.
If your company isn't a tech company, then also support Steve Owens's suggestion... hire for your core. Although it is still possible to outsource even the core activities of the company, but that should only be at the beginning... to get things started. It is best to control every aspect of production (whether goods or services) of your business process. The more control you have, the more profitable it could be and the stronger your promise to your clients.
So while I support outsourcing, I also support hiring an in-house team. Wisdom then would be in deciding what to outsource and what to hire for.
Hire for your "core" (the one thing you can do better than anyone else), and try to outsource everything else.
Hire what you need. There is no rule except that if an important task needs to be done, hire the right person to do it.
The first hires should be the people who will help build your product. You will probably need to show prototypes, betas, and the final MVP to get funding. Usually, seed funding is the money to build your MVP, and the Series A is the money you will need to take it to market.
Plus focusing on the product helps you and your team create the best possible product, since that's what your company will live or die by.
Once you have the people who can build your product, consider hiring a marketing expert. This will help you push your brand before your product is ready. A good marketing person can also start building a thought-leadership strategy for the business and the CEO (of CTO as appropriate) and develop a go-to-market strategy.
Also a good marketing person may also be able to support you in biz-dev... but you should be the one doing the biz dev since the CEO brings more authority to the partnership/deal/etc.
When your MVP is ready and you get the investment needed to take it to market (usually your series A) then hire sales people.
I believe that you are asking the wrong question. If you are recommending that people hire prior to product/market fit then they will likely unnecessarily burn through a lot of money. I would say that you should work with someone that can help you accelerate the product/market fit process. Once you do that, you will have lots of great information that will help you make many informed decisions including hiring.