FIRST HIRES are TOUGHEST TO GET RIGHT and CAN WRECK YOUR STARTUP
Your early startup hires are the most important and toughest to select well.
Your batch of early employees are going to
- Make near-term decisions critical to executing your initial business plan and
- Cement your company’s long-term culture.
You will encounter powerful challenges hiring your first people.
First hires is the where I found most first-timers made the most mistakes. Every new enterprise is hungry for people. Hiring continues constantly, daily, 24 X 7. The high sense of urgency in your startup opens the door to mistakes that are costly. Bad hires will cripple a fledgling new enterprise.
There are reliable principles to follow that can prevent first hires doom, ones I’ve found startup veterans adhere to.
Only hire the best talent – it’s not an option. The best people greatly increase your likelihood of success. Highly able talent attracts more of the same. They are comfortable making tough decisions under demanding circumstances. They want to work with people as good as themselves. Their tempers flare when they are trying to accomplish nearly impossible tasks with others struggling to keep up, ordinary people in over their heads.
The best deliver results that will amaze you. They will go far, far beyond what you thought possible. However, if you fail to get the best during your first hires, you’ll experience the worst of the worst; they can sink your boat, quickly.
Never compromise. You will feel intense pressure to fill all the open job positions. That sense of urgency will be so powerful that I found first-timers willing to hire anyone, compromising their formerly avowed commitment to never hire less than the best.
Over decades I’ve seen hiring compromises inevitably lead to the complete demise of new enterprises. They utterly fail. I’ve been there to see startups collapse from decisions by founder CEOs to “save money” by deliberately hiring “average” people who “cost less.” Consistently, those CEOs ended up shutting down their businesses. I think that’s a startup law: All or nothing, just the best you can hire – or don’t start the business.
Hiring errors will spoil a startup culture. Even just one bad hire will cause big trouble. That one will distort your company’s values and trigger near-social-riots that greatly distract your startup’s management. I find a wrong-fitting person is like a cancer that grows until radical surgery is required.
SNAP dating founder, Cliff Lerner describes this in his book “Explosive”:
“One lesson I learned too late when trying to solve the culture clash was if there’s an employee who looks good on paper, but doesn’t reflect the company’s values, I should let them go sooner rather than later.” He goes on to say “The longer that person is kept at a position that everybody knows isn’t working out, the worse it is for both parties. So, pull the trigger, let the person go, and get on with business.” [i]
Hiring exceptional talent is very challenging, but can be done and is worth the effort. Cliff Lerner said about an engineer of a huge, critical product project,
“I gave him the chance to sing. . . . Ultimately, my faith in him was rewarded, because in just weeks, he almost single-handedly built something that matched up billions of social connections. Once again, the power of a terrific engineer – A-list talent – led to extraordinary results.”[i]
Securing the best people that you can find takes time, intense effort and a lot of recruiting skill. That’s a skill that venture investors and experienced builders of startups will look for that in the founder CEO before they join. It’s critical to the success of your new business. If you’ve got that skill, you are adding to your unfair advantage.
BOTTOM LINE: You’ll be tempted to rush with hiring decisions because of what you run into. For instance, you are in a hurry and have a hyper sense of urgency to get your startup going, right now. Perhaps you are very anxious, feeling urged to get into the market selling your first product before competitors. Or maybe you are dying inside because your company is not growing as fast as your targeted, wildly growing market is. Those and a long list of additional reasons are very powerful encounters that will trigger emotions that confront you while you are hiring people. Poor choices are painful to experience and costly to eliminate. After poor hires depart, they and the process of elimination will leave scars on your people and your struggling business. But you can overcome those moments of hiring-temptation. Then you’ll find yourself working with amazing people who will make your startup awesome.
NEXT TIME I'll give you some tips about hiring your Core Team.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!
Stories from a startup coach
40 Years in Silicon Valley
300 Startups $2 Billion Raised