This article is for early-stage startups or founders that have some customers and are looking to grow their business and bring in additional people to help with product support.

You’ve had a startup idea, built a minimum viable product, and it’s started to get some customers! Awesome and great work. But now your customers have questions: first a few, then some more, and then maybe a lot of them. Do you keep answering their emails on your phone during the day and late at night? When do you start to look to hire someone to handle “Support” for your product?

The Support or Customer Service team in a startup interacts directly with your customers to help them achieve success with your product. They are the ones answering the customer emails directly with questions such as “how do I do X?” or “Y appears to be broken, can you help me make it work?”. They deal with both the questions that are a result of customer education and the ones that are a result of a bug or lack of feature design in a product. Whether you’re in a B2C (“Business-to-Consumer”) or B2B (“Business-to-Business”) space or in a services- or product- based startup space, no matter the case, you will need some kind of support team.

Every support issue has a cause that is the reason the customer raised a support case. Every cause has a potential resolving party that is the type of team member that can resolve the case. We’ll first go over 2 types of support issue causes and then talk about support structure.

Support Issue Causes

Bug or Lack of Feature Design

These are probably the issues you’re most familiar with so far! A support issue that is caused by a bug or lack of feature design may include the following examples:

  • “I clicked on a button, but it didn’t work! What do I do?”
  • “I purchased your product but didn’t receive a confirmation email!”

These types of support issues generally require technical expertise to resolve and may result in software code changes to resolve. The person that can solve this issue will have to have a technical background and either be a software developer or someone that is technically familiar with how architecture for the product works.

Cause: Underlying product technical issue.
Resolving Party: Software developer or technical team member

Customer Education

The support requests in this category generally are not a direct technical problem with the product; the customer may not understand how to use the product. While future product improvements may help to eliminate some of these types of support requests (think: an in-app tutorial that teaches users how to use the app), for now, they generally can be answered with just an explanation to the customer. Examples of these types of support requests may include the following:

  • “Where’s the link for X product?”
  • “I have a question about your shipping delivery days”
  • “Do you sell Y?”

You can resolve these support requests with general knowledge about the product.

Cause: Customer is not familiar with the product.
Resolving Party: (Now) someone with general knowledge of the product.

Support Structure

First Support Hire

You generally want to start small with a support structure. You don’t need a team of 4 people if you only have enough issues to hire one support person.

Additionally, individual team members may fit into more than one resolving party role. Someone may have both (1) technical software development experience, and (2) general support knowledge.

As such, when you’re looking to make your first hire for support, you’ll probably want that first person to be able to handle both the bug and the customer education type issues. In this instance, you’re probably looking for someone with some software development experience that also has strong communication skills. Examples of people that fall into this category may include the following:

  • New college grads with a BS in Computer Science
  • People with some coding/scripting experience that have previously worked in a support capacity

We will talk more about the hiring process in future posts and go into more details about how to look for the appropriate hire. For now, just keep in mind this is likely the first type of hire that you’ll want.

Second Support Hire and Further

As the team grows, you may want to take different strategies for expanding the support team further. The strategy depends on the type of product and where most of your support issues come from. Are most of your issues bug issues or customer education issues? If they’re bug issues, what is the turnaround time for your development cycle? Can you fix the bug issues when they happen, or do you have to wait for a long development cycle (e.g., days, weeks, months)?

Startup Support Hiring

The above diagram is a soft tool for helping to determine what type of support individuals you should hire. If you have more technical issues that you can resolve quickly, then you should hire more technical support developers that can quickly fix and ship the issues. But, if you have more general questions from customers, you should hire more customer service representatives that handle general customer questions.

The tricky part is if you have more technical problems or development issues but a long development cycle. In this situation, you’re likely to have support cases come in while awaiting a development fix, so you may need customer service representatives to communicate to customers that a “development fix is in the works.” This scenario is a difficult one that will require fine tuning specifically for your team. Some additional questions to consider:

  • Do you have the same types of issues that require development fixes occurring frequently for multiple customers?
    If yes, then one fix could resolve the issue for multiple fixes. If so, with a long dev cycle, more customer service representatives makes sense as you grow the team.
  • Do you have multiple different types of issues that require development fixes and are different for multiple customers? In this case, you may want to look at how you’re doing your software design cycle and see if you can make better improvements earlier in the process.


No matter what type of industry your company is involved in, the first and second support hires set the stage for the customer support experience. Make sure you take the time to identify the the types of support tickets that you are receiving for your company, and make sure to take as much time as needed to find the right fit for the role.