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Jack of all trades or master of one: Should startups hire multitaskers or domain experts?

This week, Entrepreneurship 101 explores if Indian startups should hire multitaskers or domain experts. How does the constituency of a team affect investor opinion?

Debolina Biswas

Pooja Malik

Jack of all trades or master of one: Should startups hire multitaskers or domain experts?

Thursday June 30, 2022 , 9 min Read

A startup’s success can depend on both its product and having the right people. And as we have established in the past, hiring isn’t easy

It is time-consuming, cost-extensive, and can be a tricky business. Furthermore, the right team can help a startup’s likelihood of raising external investments. 

Ankur Bansal, Co-founder and Director at VC firm Blacksoil, says that investors place a lot of emphasis on the people behind an idea or a company and their passion and commitment. "One can have the best idea in the world but it might never get off the ground without a good team in place," he adds.

Hiring is influenced by several factors—the sector a startup operates in, its growth stage, and the availability of working capital. That, along with the requirements of the sector, determines whether a startup needs to hire multitaskers or domain experts.

YourStory spoke to startups, investors, and experts to understand this hiring dilemma. 

startup hiring

Jack vs master

While multitaskers are great for startups that aspire to have a lean team, domain knowledge is an important indicator of potential job performance. 

Owing to the fast-paced environment in a startup, founders often need to hire employees who can work across departments and play a variety of roles at the same time. 

Logistics soonicorn Shiprocket, for instance, believes in the ‘aces in places’ philosophy, which is to hire fast-growth talent that is fungible and can be trained across roles or functions, allowing employees to get a 360-degree view of the business and “become a successor to senior leadership,” says Saahil Goel, Co-founder and CEO at Shiprocket

Manmeet Sandhu, Head of HR at PhonePe, agrees. The fintech giant prefers hiring people with curiosity, learnability, and the ability to rapidly switch contexts for its junior to mid-level roles. Although some of these roles require certain experience in a particular domain, PhonePe usually looks for people with a special skill set—the ability to pick up new problems and learn a new domain from scratch. 

“Over time, as people move across domains, this ability to quickly learn, understand, and develop new solutions itself becomes their area of expertise,” Manmeet adds.  

Naveen Kumar Nerlage, Head of HR at Licious, tells us that around 80 percent of the company's team consists of domain experts. However, he adds, "We do hire some multitaskers for junior roles such as management trainees or interns. The multi-tasking role allows them to experiment, learn and identify their niche. This is also an essential grooming process for creating future domain experts."

When it comes to project-related hiring, Ram Shriram, Founder and CEO of rural neobank startup Mahagram, believes in hiring domain experts. “Domain experts hold the knowledge from scratch to the finished version of any product. They are aware of every loophole and hold strategies to rescue from project breakdown at any point of time,” he explains. 

Hiring engineers
For the upcoming quarter, Mahagram’s hiring strategy is “Master in one, and Jack of other tasks.” 

Rakshit Mathur, Founder and CEO of The Fuel Delivery, agrees and adds that the startup usually hires individuals who are experts in one or two domains but can manage other tasks if a situation arises. 

Early-stage legaltech startup LegalKart has been hiring more multitaskers as the startup is “evolving”, says CEO and Founder Arvind Singhatiya. “Hustling is the way ahead to grow rapidly. Domain experts will be important when the company achieves a certain scale with well-defined business verticals.” 

Prashant Janadri, Co-founder of task fulfilment startup Taskmo (FeedMyPockets), agrees and adds, “Companies need to hire domain experts only when there is a task in hand and a stipulated time frame to complete it.” 

PhonePe requires people to deeply understand specific areas across legal, regulatory, and industry domains. In addition, all aspects of engineering necessarily require significant depth. “Our most valuable employees are the ones who can solve bigger, border problems by using the lens of their current expertise,” Manmeet says. 

Department-wise division 

At Shiprocket, engineering managers, full-stack developers (front and back end), and tech support managers are multitaskers. However, the logistics startup hires specialists for roles like system architects, data scientists, business analysts, data engineers, and database administrators. 

“In sales, employees can be placed in enterprise account management, or a small and medium business tier, depending on experience and skill. The approach is to ensure that the right skill set, expertise, and aspiration are matched to the right role,” says Saahil. 

But for departments like operations and customer management, you need people to take care of multiple small albeit critical tasks. “For each small task, organisations cannot afford to have an expert,” says Mahagram’s Ram.

Entrepreneurship 101

At present, LegalKart hires domain experts only for its tech team. “Higher costs and absence of well-defined departments make it challenging for us to hire domain experts,” adds Arvind. Besides the tech team, whenever the startup requires domain expertise, it hires on a consultant basis instead of full-time employees to ensure efficient use of capital. Domain experts usually have higher salary expectations, owing to their proficiency and industry knowledge.


BlackSoil’s Ankur advises founders to identify key metrics that translate into revenue growth, better customer experience, and overall progress of the company, adding, “Then, the founders should focus on key resources and capabilities to achieve those metrics and accordingly hire multitaskers or domain experts.” 

Investor’s take 

Jinesh Shah, Managing Partner at Omnivore, reveals that the VC firm primarily looks for the four Ts—team, technology, total addressable market, and traction. 

 “I'd rather invest in an excellent team with a B-level idea than vice-versa,” he adds. Omnivore, which usually invests in early-stage startups, prefers teams that have multitasking employees, lending their competence across domains.  

Image: Shutterstock

While Padmaja Ruparel, Co-founder of Indian Angel Network, believes that it is the founders who bring the most value during the decision-making process, Blacksoil’s Ankur says, “We prefer to invest in companies that have the right mix of generalists and specialists.” 


He further explains that early-stage startups need to focus on finding the right creative solutions to achieve product-market fit. “In an ambiguous environment, you need someone who has an array of skills along with a tolerance of ambiguity. Specialists might not fit into such an environment,” he says. 


However, once a startup achieves the product-market fit and scales beyond 100 employees, functions should be performed by specialists to allow the company to solve problems efficiently while focusing on scaling. Jinesh adds, “As a business grows and moves from agility to stability, companies start by hiring multitaskers and then seek out domain experts.” 


Therefore, the hiring pattern is determined by a multitude of factors—sector, stage, and business model of the startup. Shruti Srivastava, Principal at Avaana Capital, suggests that new-age, deeptech startups require a certain level of domain expertise across teams, “To ensure alignment on vision.” On the other hand, “Execution-heavy players need multitaskers who are good at management and adopt a more ‘jack of all’ approach,” she adds. 


Similarly, Mohamad Faraz, Founding Partner at Upsparks, says that if the sector demands a deep understanding of the problem statement like in healthtech, deeptech, and agritech, founder(s) should focus on hiring domain experts. 

Market trends 

Taskmo’s Prashant says that as most startups have budget constraints, “it is more likely that they hire multitaskers who can fit into multiple job roles.”

To further understand the market trends influencing hiring habits, YourStory reached out to recruitment startups. 

Vijaya Raghavan, Chief of People and Culture at HRMS platform ZingHR, says that companies prefer investing in multitaskers, “as they have to contribute less time to train them for a particular role.” 

However, Chayan Mukhopadhyay, Co-founder and CEO of Qandle, suggests that Indian startups are more eager than ever to hire domain experts in specialised roles, especially in technology roles.

“Although, hiring generalists continue for strategy and sales roles,” he adds. 

hiring playbook

Hiring multitaskers may seem to be a cost-effective decision but the outcomes are below expectations. “Domain experts, on the other hand, produce better results at lower overall costs,” says Chayan, adding that companies should hire domain experts only when there is a time-bound critical task at hand. 

Prashant also adds that the pandemic has impacted hiring trends and startups are now adopting cost-effective hiring models.

Taskmo’s records reveal that startups across early and growth stages now prefer gig workers over full-time employees for the same roles to avoid overhead costs, training, and OpEx costs. 

Vijaya agrees. “Investing in recruiting a great staff enables the firm to move forward. For precisely that reason, organisations should not only build an in-house staff but also outsource externally during the expansion stage,” he says, 

Chayan believes that by 2030, high-value tasks will be cognitive in nature. Thus, all knowledge workers will need to apply creativity, critical thinking, and constant digital upskilling to solve complex problems. He says that in the last couple of years, the demand for digital skills has grown by 60 percent.  


To sum up, domain experts and multitaskers are both valuable and critical for a startup. Hiring a candidate for a particular role involves considering factors like knowledge about the sector, pain points, and the solution. 

However, early-stage startups may not have the financial resources to always hire a domain expert. 

“As an organisation scales, roles get more specialised, versus an early-stage startup where an individual holds a broad-based role, spanning across functions at times,” Saahil explains, adding that the logistics startup changed its hiring philosophy as the company grew.

Shiprocket now focuses on onboarding specialists.

However, early-stage startup The Fuel Delivery prefers to work with specialists. In fact, founder Rakshit revealed that 85 percent of its 32-employee team consists of domain experts. 

Hiring domain experts ensure that early-stage startups do not direct their limited capital and time into training employees from scratch. “Due to limited resources and expenditure, it would be wise for early-stage startups to utilise and invest in multitaskers to look at multiple activities,” Vijaya says. 

(This story was updated to mention that Shiprocket is a soonicorn.)

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta