The Hiring Mistake That Could Bring Down Your Startup

Human capital is an amazing resource, one that drives outcomes for companies across life-cycle stages. In the startup world, where most companies fail, founders should fight tooth and nail for a team that will outperform their competitors.

Some entrepreneurs seem to confuse warm seats with progress after closing institutional capital. This is one (of many) lessons that I didn’t think I needed to learn but did anyway. Finding, closing and motivating the right employees will be more important and difficult than closing your investment.

10x people exist

“I have no trouble imagining that one person could be 100 times as productive as another” Paul Graham

Outstanding people can produce amazing amounts of impactful work. They’re generally self motivated, self-improving and behave like owners. They don’t complain about picking up trash off the floor and don’t watch the clock at 6:30. When given the appropriate context and resources, these people can outperform the average by a significant multiplier. The multiplier isn’t limited to super-transparent functions like programming or sales. You can find 10x designers, copywriters, office managers, etc.

10x outcomes are only created by 10x teams

“Ideas are easy, execution is everything, and in anything worth doing, it takes a team to win” -John Doerr

The description above should read like a job spec for a start-up. Hours are hard, there are no support functions like HR or IT, and execution expectations border on the ridiculous. There’s a lot of room for learning, in fact, for many the startup fire hose will be their best opportunity for professional development. But you don’t have time or resources to train the qualities I mentioned above.

Outstanding teams have a multiplier impact, particularly at early stages. These teams will get good product out to market sooner, iterate faster, power through storms and attract more great people. These teams are more likely to hit the bimodal outcome that doesn’t involve lighting stock certificates on fire.

The best people won’t find you

 “Of all the things startups need to do, finding exceptionally talented people that are a good ‘fit’ is likely the hardest”Dharmesh Shah

Great people are undervalued, but it’s not like their work goes without recognition. Employers love them and will fight for them (albeit not hard enough) if they threaten to leave. Former colleagues poach them for new endeavors. Job boards are like dating sites; they attract an audience that doesn’t have other good options.

My company generally reaches out to over 100 people for every open tech position. We look to platforms like LinkedIn Pro to scale our outreach and target companies, specialties and schools where think we’ll find top performers. We generally don’t hire people that are unemployed or found us on a job board.

…and closing the right person will be competitive

“50 no’s and a yes… means yes” –James Bond (Family Guy)

If you’ve done your job, you’re at the table with someone who is skeptical about leaving a good opportunity to work long hours in your closet-of-an-office.

Like any sale, success is determined by a combination of hustle and the attractiveness of your underlying product, or in this case the position itself. My company is continuously refining this value proposition. We pay our people more than our competitors (and our CEO).  We make the work environment attractive by valuing impact not face time, giving great people freedom to operate independently, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

We’ve also learned not to be discouraged by a “no”. Over half of our current team either declined my initial invitation or the offer itself.

So invest in hiring right, and cut quickly when you don’t

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.” – Bob Knight