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August 19, 2005

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.

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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]


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