Posted by: OurKudos | April 9, 2011

Finding great people

Mark Suster, famed entrepreneur and VC, recently published an article on TechCrunch called “9 Women Can’t Make a Baby in a Month.” In it, he discussed the problem of over-capitalization and how it leads funded companies to make poor hiring decisions. He made a lot of other good points, but that’s the one that resonated with me, leading me to comment on the article:

Mark, I’m in complete agreement. Having created and run a lean startup in the 80’s, I found that having a small, very talented development team allowed us to be ‘agile’ way before anybody knew the word. Many times, people suggested that we take outside funding and grow explosively, but I insisted on organic growth. My feeling was that if the company didn’t have the sales to grow, it didn’t deserve to do so.

Sticking to the lean-and-mean philosophy won. Multi-billion dollar companies failed to compete against us because they just threw bodies at the problem. Give me a half dozen ‘A’ players any day – I’ll gladly take on 100 ‘C’ players with a huge budget. I’m maintaining this philosophy with my new startup and am throttling hiring to ensure we only have an all ‘A’ staff.

This highlights my view on hiring – hire a small number of really great people and help them to help you create an amazing company.

Maybe it’s because I started out as a geek and I have geek DNA. No tiger-blood(tm) here! As a geek, I value smart people who get the job done and have little patience for “fillers” – people who collect a paycheck and contribute just enough to keep their job. Startups simply can’t afford people like that. Worse, they grow like a cancer – one filler can ruin corporate culture.

Great people can be hard to find. That’s why I believe in a process of “constant recruitment.” I never stop looking for talent. Even if I can’t hire someone on the spot (we’re a startup with limited resources) I want to keep the door open and let them know that there might be a place for them on the the team. Maybe most of them will find another job, but sometimes we get lucky and they’ll come to work with us.

I admit, we have some recruiting advantages. I truly believe in what we’re doing. Ok, every entrepreneur probably feels that way. But I know that we’re going to help make the world a better place – that’s not something everybody can claim. And people quickly see that they’re going to contribute to something positive. Still, it’s a leap of faith to join any startup.

Now that we’ve put together such a talented core team, I think it will be easier. Few people want to risk being the first couple hires at a startup – it just seems too risky. But once you meet a team that’s excited about what they do, it becomes a much more compelling proposition.

Finally, in addition to having infectious ideas, I’ve had a previous success. My first company, started from my dorm room, was purchased by a Silicon Valley biotech firm. Along the way, we won a spot on the Inc. 500. So there’s some proof that I’m not just faking it!

But getting really good people is still hard. When even Google loses engineers to Facebook, you know the climate is tough. So many companies end up lowering their standards in order to grow, a grave mistake IMHO. Kevin Rose of Digg received a lot of flack recently for his view on this. He said, essentially, once you hire some people who are, ahem, less than stellar, you pull everyone down. Then when the time comes to hire more, those people hire people worse than themselves. Before you know it, you’ve got a mediocre staff. I must keep reminding myself of this because a startup or a growing company cannot suffer the tyranny of mediocrity.


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