About Tom Evslin

Video Profile of Tom Evslin

Follow Tom Evslin on Twitter


Add to Technorati Favorites!
Powered by TypePad
Member since 01/2005


« The Book of The Century (So Far) | Main | Self Guided Tour of Blogs Continued »

Go for The Moon When Hiring for a Startup

Bernard Moon, that is.  He’s got a great post here on AlwaysOn about how and whom to hire.  He’s a serial entrepreneur who’s done it before and is now hiring for his newest venture the blogging and communications platform GoingOn Networks.

Besides being an entrepreneur, Bernard is a prolific blogger both on AlwaysOn and on Junto Boyz, his own blog.  We bloggers tend to think in posts so Bernard has written out the rules he follows as he recruits his startup team.  They’re must reading for anyone who is recruiting.  Most of what he writes applies to nonstartup hiring as well.

I won’t try summarizing what Bernard has written  If this is something you care about you ought to read his whole post.  Two points are especially worth emphasizing and I have a couple of small disagreements.

Bernard writes “The bottom line is that no matter how good your team appears to investors, what really counts is how your team works together in the trenches.”  You’re not hiring to please potential VCs with a team that’s great on paper; you need a team that will succeed.  Many of the “names” you can hire are burned out, tired, too-rich to be motivated, or experts at failing upward. It’s hard enough to find the right people without worrying about how they’re going to look to outsiders.

Bernard quotes super VC John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins: “You must ask, 'Are these the people I want to be in trouble with for the next 5, 10, 15 years of my life?' Because as you build a new business, one thing's for sure: You will  get into trouble.” Amen.  I would only worry about five years though, may three.  More on that below.

I disagree with Bernard’s math when he says “One A-grade hire equals 10 C-grade hires.”  A C-grade hire is a negative – especially for a startup.  Better to leave the position unfilled.  No matter what you multiply a negative by, you still get a negative.

Bernard says to hire team players.  You need to hire people you can work with but NOT necessarily team players. Team players won’t tell you when you’re dead wrong; they won’t be the only dissenting voice even when they’re right and everybody else is wrong.  Startups need a team but I think a CEO can mold a team, has to mold a team, from very strong individuals.

One point Bernard doesn’t talk about is what your horizon should be when evaluating people.  There are few great startup people.  There are even less people who are good at both startups and the next stage of a company’s life.  If I’m taking a ship out of a rough harbor, I want the world’s best harbor pilot.  Once you’re on the open ocean, it’s time for the pilot to climb down into the pilot boat and let a sea captain take over.

A startup is so hard, the odds of success are so small, that you need to have the best startup people possible.  That means there’ll be a time when much of the team turns over – quite likely including you if you’re a founder type.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Go for The Moon When Hiring for a Startup:

I was planning on posting a follow up to my article at AlwaysOn here, but Tom Evslin posted a response at his blog so I decided to just continue the conversation. Oh, if you're an entrepreneur or thinking about starting something, Tom's blog is a must ... [Read More]


Carty Castaldi


I discovered your blog recently, enjoying it very much, thanks.

I have had the pleasure of recruiting new teams at both large companies (e.g. Cisco) and startups (e.g. Mazu Networks, Vertica Systems).

For me, the concept of 'A' vs. 'C' players is evolving. I wonder if the obvious metaphor based on academic performance is flawed.

A vs. C presumes that there are objective criteria on which such distinctions can be drawn. Certainly for a software product developers there are absolutes, e.g. are they proficient at programming? Can they communicate clearly?

But ‘fit’, particularly in a startup, is fundamentally a function of subjective criteria. As startup teams are small and culture is generally singular and distinct, an A player at one successful startup may be a B or C player at another.

The art in creating the right startup team is understanding that each hire further constrains the requirements for the remaining hires. And that the notion of fit changes as the startup matures (you make this point).

When I have had to let a team member go it is more an acknowledgement that solving the simultaneous equation of ‘fit’ is difficult, not necessarily that I hired a ‘C’ player by mistake (although I am as prone to such mistakes as any manager).

As for whether to hire ‘team players’, I think your position can be reconciled with Bernard’s if you are willing to include in the semantic for ‘team’ a culture in which legitimate dissent is not only encouraged but required. The primary point, that team members must be committed to each other’s success, is an important one.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


  • adlinks
  • adsense