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A Tech Founder's Guide To Picking A Non-Tech Founder

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Dec 18, 2013

There are many articles and blogs claiming to have THE list of things to do to find the perfect technical cofounder - as if it’s that easy to find a cofounder in general. From my purview at FounderDating, however, one of the most important and least-discussed (in the press, at least) questions is from technical entrepreneurs. For the last year the longest- running trending topic on FD:Discuss (the Q/A section of the site) is: how do technical cofounders evaluate non-technical cofounders? yin yang colorful

Why It’s Hard

When you’re technical and interviewing or planning to work with other people who are technical, you’re used to giving them objective “tests” that help you determine their abilities, white board problems, coding projects, pair-programming sessions. Even if you’re not technical and you have someone do a coding project, you can easily show it to technical friends and advisors and quickly get their expert opinions. Of course, this isn’t enough to decide whether you should work with someone -- especially as a cofounder -- but it’s at least cutting to the core of the skills question. (You also need to address the chemistry/personality question.)

Unfortunately, there isn’t a white board test equivalent for business folks that really mimics these (if anyone has one please share). You can get a rough idea of how they think, but there isn’t a concrete “result” to help you figure out if they are any good e.g. can they acquire customers, can they recruit someone, etc.

The Most Common Mistakes

You don’t know what you don’t know. And that leads many potential technical cofounders to fall back on criteria that seem important but are typically false positives. A few of the most popular characteristics people tell us they look for that aren’t good indicators on their own:

1. Expert in the field you’re interested in - I guess this is nice if there is no chance that the idea will change industries (read: almost never). But some of the most successful companies were started by people that had no experience in their industry, and that’s precisely why they were able to change it. Kevin Hartz didn’t have a background in ticketing nor did Max Levchin in payments. Often times having spent a career in an industry means you can’t re-think it.

2. Top schools or top companies on their resume - It’s nice to tout, but if you joined Facebook as the 4000th employee this just doesn’t tell you much - good or bad.

3. Built a prototype - This is helpful but only in that it shows they can DO and not just talk. But it’s unlikely you’ll want to inherit that code or that the idea will remain the same.

What To Look For and How

As a non-technical cofounder your job ranges from product to hiring to taking out the trash. There isn’t one test or one white board problem to give, but here are the characteristics you should be looking for:

1. High FSO (Figure.Sh*t.Out) quotient - When you start a company or a side project there are few guarantees. Pretty much the only one I can make is that there will be a large body of work that comes your way that neither you nor your cofounder(s) have ever faced before. This heap of work will far outnumber the portion you have actually encountered. Can your cofounder figure sh*t out? And can they do it quickly? Being amazing at one thing is nice, but honestly not what you should optimize for in a cofounder. Founders are typically just “good enough” at a slew of things: fundraising, product, partnerships, etc. You can hire for the very specific positions later, right now you need an all around athlete –calls plays and executes at different positions

2. His GSD (Get.Sh*t.Done) quotient - The sheer volume of work that needs to get done when you start a company is, well, never ending. It’s great to be able to talk to crowds and VCs but given a list of 20 things that you need to do, can they prioritize and knock them off at an impressive rate (especially the ones they haven’t done before - see #1)? You should feel totally confident that when they say they are going to do something it will get done -- and done exceptionally well.

3. High Determination Quotient - OK, so I lied: There are two guarantees I can make about starting a company - the second is that you will get rejected (over and over again). Can this person handle that kind of negative feedback? How long does it take them to get back up? This is the reason having previously been a cofounder or joined a startup as an early employee is important. It shows that they’ve been to battle, have scars and are opting back in. It’s less the industry and more the psychological experience that matters. Paul Graham has a famous essay on Determination. Cliff notes version: “We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination.” This means you need to work on something together long enough to hit a road block (or four) and see how they react.

4. High Communication Quotient - There are actually two parts to this requirement.

i) Can they speak your language? You can’t expect them to know as much about engineering as you do. But do they make an effort to understand? Have they worked with engineers before and comprehend the questions to ask? If you don’t know the answer, ask to talk some of these previous co-workers. A non-technical cofounder learning to code is an encouraging sign – not necessarily because they’ll be contributing meaningfully on the engineering side, but more as a helpful signal that this person is curious and wants to understand your language.

ii) Can they communicate with others effectively? This means investors, potential employees, customers. If you have a SaaS product, can they sell the first customer? If you have a consumer-focused product, can they go get an alpha group to test and then gather their feedback and work off of it? Can they present to a crowd and get them excited? That could mean a startup weekend crowd or a group of students; you don’t have to wait until you’re pitching investors to figure this out.

You may have noticed that you can’t figure out #s 1-4 in just a few meetings. The best way to figure all of this out is -- to work together first. Start a side-project. These quotients are exponentially easier to calculate when you’re working on something real together. It doesn’t matter if it’s the idea you actually end up working on, you’ll see far more revealed doing this than you will over 10 coffees or hypothetical white board sessions. Yes, that also means you can’t find the right partner in just a few weeks. So be constantly putting yourself out there.

These aren’t the only things to look for -- there are big questions around motivation and alignment and of course personality fit -- but these are much more telling characteristics than a resume-based checklist.

This was a guest post by Jessica Alter.  Jessica is the co-founder & CEO of FounderDating, the premiere online network for entrepreneurs to connect, share, and find co-founders. Previously, she led Business Development and was GM of Platforms at Bebo (before it was acquired by AOL). She is also a mentor at 500 Startups and Extreme Startups.

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12 Unconventional Interview Questions Entrepreneurs Should Ask

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Jun 05, 2013


Where potential employees are concerned, obviously skills are important. Yet we’ve all seen fabulously talented individuals become a team that was far less than the sum of its parts.

While expertise is important, cultural fit can be just as – if not more – important. It's something we obsess over at my company, result in what we call our Culture Code (that describes how we think about talent and culture at HubSpot).job interview small 2

As a result your interviews should focus on more than just skills and qualifications. You also need to ask questions to probe whether candidates will fit into your organization: Are they likely to play well in your particular sandbox? Will their work style and personality complement your team?

Will they not just survive but thrive in a fast-paced, often-chaotic startup environment?

Do your homework before the interview and you should already have a good sense of whether the candidate has the right blend of skills and experiences to be able to do the job well. So definitely dive deeper into an exploration of talent and expertise, but also ask questions to determine whether the candidate can do the job well in your organization – because hiring even one employee who doesn’t fit your culture creates a culture debt you may never pay off.

Keep in mind how the candidate answers is important, but the conversations that follow– since a great interview is a conversation, not an interrogation – can reveal even more:

1. “What concerns do you have about our company?”

Strange question? Not really. No company – and no job – is perfect for any employee (even its founders.) Every company and every job has its challenges and potential downsides.

The candidates you want to hire don’t think your company is perfect; they’ve done sufficient research to know that while yours is not the perfect company and the job is not the perfect job, yours is a company they want to work for because they can thrive, make a difference, develop and learn and grow and achieve… and be a key part of taking your company to even greater heights.

And as a result they’re willing to honestly share their concerns – because they trust you run a company that values openness, honesty, and transparency.

2. “What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?”

Everyone makes tough decisions. (Well, at least everyone you want to hire does.)

Good candidates made a decision based on analysis or reasoning. Great candidates made a decision based on data and on interpersonal considerations – because every important or meaningful decision, no matter how smart it looks on paper, eventually has an effect on and must be carried out by people.

A company at its core is made up of people. Great employees weigh both sides of an issue, considering the “business” aspects as well as the human impact.

3. “Tell me about a time when you had to slog your way through a ton of work. How did you get through it?”

We all are required to at least occasionally place our noses on the grindstone. Most people can slog through the drudgery because they have to.

The candidates you want to hire can take on a boring task, find the meaning in that task, and turn it into something they want to do.

Great employees turn the outer-directed into the self-directed – and in the process, perform at a much higher level. And gain a greater sense of fulfillment.

On the flip side…

4. “What were you doing the last time you looked at a clock and realized you had lost all track of time?”

We do our best when a task doesn’t feel like work but feels like what we are meant to do.

I have never met an exceptional candidate that didn't at one point have this feeling where time didn't matter. Call it being “in the zone” or “flow” or whatever you want — all great people experience it.

This ability to commit passionately to a project/task is particularly important for high-growth businesses. These moments of high-creativity and high-productivity are often when the best ideas come.

Explore what candidates feel they were meant to do. A lack of experience is less important when a candidate has hunger and drive. And, if someone isn't passionate enough aboutsomething (whether it's related to their job or not) you should worry as to whether there's anything at your company that is going to get them fired up.

Why? You can teach skills… but you can’t teach love.

5. “Describe a time you felt you were right but you still had to follow directions or guidelines.”

Surprisingly, this question can be a great way to evaluate a candidate’s ability to follow and to lead.

Poor candidates find a way to get around the rules because they “know” they were right. Or they follow directions but allow their performance to suffer because they don’t believe in what they’re doing. (You’d be surprised by how many interviewees will admit they didn’t work hard because they felt angry or stifled and expect you to feel their pain.)

Good candidates did what needed to be done, especially if time was of the essence, and later found the right moment to bring up the issue try to improve the status quo.

Great candidates did what needed to be done, stayed motivated… and helped others stay motivated and get things done, too. In a peer environment, an employee who is able to say, “I’m not sure what we’re doing makes perfect sense, but it might, so let’s knock it out!” is invaluable.

In a leadership environment, good leaders are able to debate and argue behind closed doors and then fully support a decision in public, even if they (privately) disagree with that decision.

No employee agrees with every decision, every process, every “best practice”… what matters is how they react and perform when they don’t agree.

6. “What book do you think everyone on the team should read?”

This is one of my favorite questions. It's partly because I just love books and always looking for new ideas — but partly because most great people always have had a book that they found to be super-useful and like sharing with others. If the person can't think of a single book that they'd recommend to others, that's a warning sign. Either they don't enjoy reading — or possibly, they don't think that the kinds of things they need to learn can be found in books. Both worry me.

Curiosity is a wonderful indicator of intellect and, oddly enough, modesty, because curious people are willing to admit they don’t know and are then willing to work to learn what they don’t know. Curious people also tend not to be cynics (see “Skeptics vs. Cynics: Which Are Toxic?”).

Every business needs employees who can set their egos aside and ask questions. Every business needs employees who are willing to say, “I don’t know how – can you help me?”

7. “Tell me about a time you felt company leadership was wrong. What did you do?”

I certainly don’t have all the answers. And I’m definitely not always right. So I want people to question my perspectives; push back when I come to conclusions; ask, “Why?” and, sometimes more critically, “Why not?”

Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it, so we make uncommon amounts of information available to everyone in my company, HubSpot. We don’t want to just “win” debates. We want to be right. We want to make smarter decisions and support smarter behavior.

So we want employees who aren’t afraid to take that information and run with it… and challenge, in a healthy way, each other and executive leadership. Especially executive leadership.

8. What does, “This parrot is no more!” mean to you?

Walk around some companies and you’ll hear Monty Python (the quote above), or Office Space, or Spinal Tap, or Seinfeld quotes tossed around all the time. That’s because recognizable quotes are like verbal shorthand, getting across in one or two sentences what normally takes much longer to explain. And, speaking of Seinfeld (of which both my co-founder and I are fans), one of the quotes we use all the time is “Why don't you just tell me the movie you want to see…” (from the classic MoviePhone episode).

The candidate doesn’t have to recognize the quote or cultural reference you make. In itself that’s not important – but if your team has, say, a quirky sense of humor, it’s awesome if the candidate does, too.

And just in case you don’t get much of a response to this question, go to…

9. “What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on?”

Same thing. A favorite movie can indicate a lot about a candidate’s personality. I can watch Moneyball over and over because it’s an entertaining movie filled with lessons on business and entrepreneurship.

One candidate may love a story about overcoming the odds. Another may love a comedy. Doesn't matter. The question really helps you learn more about the person (not their skills). This question often leads to a fun, engaging conversation.

10. “Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”

When your company is focused on getting (stuff) done conflict is inevitable. The candidate who pushes all the blame – and the responsibility for rectifying the situation – on another person is one to avoid. Better is the candidate who focused not on blame but on addressing and fixing the problem.

Best of all are the people who admit they were partly or completely at fault (because it always takes two to do the conflict tango), took responsibility, and worked to make a bad situation better.

Every business needs employees who will admit when they are wrong, take ownership for fixing the problem, and most importantly learn from the experience.

11. “What business would you love to start?”

Startups naturally attract entrepreneurs-in-training. That’s awesome: Sure, they may leave someday to start their own companies, but in the meantime your business benefits from their entrepreneurial spirit, drive, and attitude.

And they’re much more likely to fit in to your organization, since they immediately embrace the differences in working for a startup rather than a corporation.

What type of business they would like to start may not matter; what does matter is the fact they have ideas and hopes and dreams – because if they do, they will bring those ideas and hopes and dreams to your business.

12. “What would you most like to learn here that would help you in the future?”

This is somewhat of a follow-up to question 11. If they do have a startup in mind that they'd love to start someday. It's revealing to figure out where they think they need help (finance? marketing? sales?) The other benefit of this question is that it sends a signal to the individual that we care about growing people. The saying at HubSpot is “We don't want to just build a great company, we want to build great people.”

Now it’s your turn: Take a look at the qualities and attributes of your top performers. Think critically about the business culture you’re trying to create. What questions should you ask – and what conversations should you try to spark – that will help you identify the qualities and attributes your business needs? Yours may be different than these – which only makes sense since every company and every company culture is different.

And in the comments below, please share unconventional interview questions you like to ask!

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5 Startup Hiring Mistakes That Can Crush Your Culture

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Apr 29, 2013

Remember your first business loan? Or, if you're like many entrepreneurs, you may have initially bootstrapped your startup by buying some stuff on your credit card. You were excited and apprehensive: Excited because now you had the cash to invest in your business, apprehensive because you had just taken on a debt you would have to repay.

But that was okay, because you were confident you could create more value than the interest you would pay. Even though you eventually have to pay off a financial debt, gaining access to the right resources now often marks the difference between success and failure.

That’s true for financial debt – but it’s almost never true for culture debt. describe the image

Culture debt happens when a business takes a shortcut and hires an employee with, say, the “right” the skills or experience… but who doesn't fit the culture. Just one bad hire can create a wave of negativity that washes over every other employee, present and future – and as a result, your entire business.

Unfortunately the interest on culture debt is extremely high: In some cases you will never pay off the debt you incur, even when a culture misfit is let go or leaves.

Here are five all-too-common ways you can create culture debt that can keep your startup from achieving its potential:

1. You see the ivy and miss the poison

The star developer who writes great code… but who also resists taking any direction and refuses to help others… won't instantly turn over a new interpersonal leaf just because you hire him.

The skilled salesperson who in the short-term always seems to outperform her peers… but who also maneuvers and manipulates and builds kerosene-soaked bridges just waiting to go up in flames… won’t turn into a relationship building, long-term focused ambassador for your company just because you hire her.

The interview process is a little like a honeymoon. You see the best the candidate has to offer. If a prospective employee doesn't look like a great fit for your culture before he is hired, he definitely won’t be after he’s hired.

Never risk making a deal with the culture-fit devil. The soul of your company is at stake. Seriously.

2. You discard the attitude and play the skill card

Skills and experience are worthless when not put to use. Knowledge is useless when not shared with others.

The smaller your company the more likely you are to be an expert in your field, so transferring those skills to new employees is relatively easy. But you can't train enthusiasm, a solid work ethic, and great interpersonal skills – and those traits can matter a lot more than any skills a candidate brings.

According to this study only 11% of the new hires that failed in the first 18 months failed due to deficiencies in technical skills. The majority failed due to lack of motivation, an unwillingness to be coached, or problems with temperament and emotional intelligence.

Think of it this way: The candidate who lacks certain hard skills might be a cause for concern, but the candidate who lacks the beliefs and values you need is a giant culture debt red flag.

3. You try to sell a used car

It’s tempting to over-sell a candidate on your company, especially when you desperately need to fill an open position and you've been recruiting for seemingly forever.

Don’t sell too hard. Great candidates come prepared. They've done their homework. They already know whether your company is a good fit for them based on what they've read about you online. The really great recruits might have been stalking your company for many weeks or months -- seeing what the company feels like.

Describe the position, describe your company, answer every question, be candid and forthright, let your natural enthusiasm show through… and let the candidate make an informed decision. But, don’t oversell.

The right candidates recognize the right opportunities – and the right cultural fit. If you have to try too hard to convince someone, and the love is unidirectional, it's not setup for long-term success.

4. You mistake the rumblings for hunger

Nothing beats a formal, thorough, comprehensive hiring process… except, sometimes, a dose of intuition and gut feel.

At my company HubSpot (grew from 0-500 employees in 6 years) there are five key attributes we value:

· Humble. They’re modest despite being awesome. They’re self-aware and respectful.

· Effective. They get (stuff) done. They measurably move the needle and immeasurably add value.

· Adaptable. They’re constantly changing, life-long learners.

· Remarkable. They have a super-power that makes them stand out: Remarkably smart, remarkably creative, remarkably resourceful…

· Transparent. They’re open and honest with others – and with themselves.

In short, we look for people with H-E-A-R-T, because they help us create a company we love. So we always weigh our impressions against more qualitative considerations. You should too. Think of it this way: The more experience you have – the more lumps you’ve taken and hard knocks you’ve received and mistakes you’ve made – the more “educated” your “gut.” While you should never go on intuition alone, if you have a funny feeling about a candidate… see that as a sign you need to look more closely.

And look more closely.

For a detailed insider’s peek into how we think about culture at HubSpot, check out our Culture Code slides (embedded below for your convenience).

Bottom line: Define the intangibles you want in your employees and never compromise by hiring a candidate who lacks those qualities.

5. You decide to double down

There are two basic kinds of risk you can take on a potential employee.

First the worthwhile risks: Taking a shot on a candidate you feel has more potential than her previous employer let her show; taking a shot on a candidate who is missing a few skills but has attitude in abundance; taking a chance on a candidate you feel certain brings the enthusiasm, drive, and spirit your team desperately needs. Those are good chances to take.

Now the foolish risks: Taking a shot on a candidate with a history of performance issues that you hope will somehow develop a strong work ethic; taking a chance on the candidate who left his last two jobs because "my bosses were jerks;" taking a shot on the candidate who has no experience yet only wants to talk about how quickly and often she will be promoted.

Why do you rationalize taking foolish risks? You're desperate. Or you're lazy. Or you have "other issues to focus on." Or you figure your culture is strong enough to withstand the impact of one ill-fitting employee.

Don't take foolish risks. They almost always turn out badly. Occasionally take potentially worthwhile risks, because they can turn out to be your most inspired hires and, eventually, your best employees.

And never, ever take a chance that creates high-interest culture debt.

The cost to your organization is just too high. And, life is short.

A variation of this article was also posted as part of my participation in the LinkedIn Influencers program

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The 4 Personality Types Every Startup Needs

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, Feb 01, 2013

Anyone can have a killer startup idea, but in order to make that idea succeed you’ll need an unbeatable team. Crafting the perfect team is an art -- one we're constantly trying to refine at my startup, Boundless.

We’ve found that a structured process yields the best new hires. This starts with first understanding the skills we need to fill. But we don’t just try to fit anyone with the right experience into a role - we go further and search for the right personality for the position as well. Throughout the entire hiring process, we’re constantly looking for signs of the four most important startup personalities: The Beast, Lara Croft, The Architect, and The Most Interesting Man in the World.xmen small

Our initial process is probably quite similar to many other startups. First, Boundless job candidates need to have a presence online. If we can’t find you online, you don’t exist, which means we’re not going to start the interview process. Next, candidates go through a phone screen to determine basic experience and qualifications. Those that survive the phone call visit with multiple team members on-site, where they’re assessed on skill and personality.

However, the final step is a little different. Before securing a job at Boundless everyone gives a 20 minute presentation on your personal or professional passion. We like to give the entire team a chance to see the candidate, and give the candidate an opportunity to impress the team with anything they want. We’ve seen people present on Tai Chi, cupcakes, coffee, how to build an art collection on a budget - all kinds of interesting, quirky and funny topics. And, of course, by this point in the process we have a strong idea of the type of a person the candidate is.

The Four Critical Startup Personality Types

The Beast, Lara Croft, The Architect, and The Most Interesting Man in the World. When filling a role at your startup, you need to find a candidate that embodies characteristics from each of these personalities if you are going to create a culture that changes the world. I firmly believe that a large part of my company’s success is driven by employees with characteristics strongly matching these personalities.

Here’s how to identify these four startup personalities:

The Beast

The startup Beast, modeled after the X-men character, possesses a “get shit done” mentality. A Beast’s raw animal output ensures they get more done in a day than even the most caffeinated worker bee. These people strive to be the very best in their profession, and doing more than seems humanly possible helps them get there. Look for people with high levels of productivity at their last positions and ridiculous amounts of drive and energy.

Lara Croft

When hiring, look for adventurers with an entrepreneurial spirit. These Lara Croft types create goals and projects for themselves to enhance the company values or goals. People who are self starters, self motivated, who have built things on their own time to scratch their own itch are Croft. Their adventurous minds dream big to help inspire the team.

The Architect

The Architect, inspired by the character from The Matrix, understands the big picture and can still focus on the details. These are the people who have a productivity hack for nearly all aspects of their life. Being productive and organized with the details helps The Architect keep the big picture in mind. You can spot Architects as people who have taken pride in a craft or know the intricate details of their previous position plus can clearly articulate the high-level strategy.

The Most Interesting Man in the World

At any fast-growing startup, you’ll spend a lot of time collaborating and hanging out with your colleagues. To make your office lunches or happy hours more enjoyable for all involved, hire people with character and charm for your team. The Most Interesting Man in the World, seen in the Dos Equis commercials, adds depth to your company culture. And in tough times, the Interesting Man (or woman) is the person you want fighting on your team and who help keep you going during the tough time. Don’t just look for goofballs - find people who have overcome difficult challenges and kept a positive attitude.

By hiring based on these four personalities, Boundless has built a team that not only has the capacity to build the best learning platform possible, but a team that continues to attract other top-notch people to share the journey with us.

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Healy Jones to Boundless as our new Vice President of Marketing. The Beast in Healy helped our open textbooks initiative get written up in TechCrunch, and his wine tasting team presentation won him a nod in the Most Interesting Man in the World category. He joins Boundless from OfficeDrop where he was VP of Marketing, where he helped grow the user base 120 times in two years.

Whether you’re hiring a new team member as a VP or entry-level, remember that killer personalities help make the journey from idea to strong startup possible.

This is a guest post from Ariel Diaz. Ariel is the CEO and co-founder of Boundless, which creates free textbooks for college students.  

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Recruiting Developers? Create An Awesome Candidate Experience

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Nov 29, 2012


tl;dr:  If you're trying to attract awesome developers, you need to create an awesome candidate experience (CX).  Something that makes them go "WOW!".  It's like UX -- but for the people interviewing to join your team.  

It seems that every startup I know out there is trying to grow their development team.  But given that there are always a hundred things going on, few startups spend the time thinking about their interviewing process (because we're all busy building products and delighting users).wow

Yesterday, I sat in a HubSpot "Tech Talk". The topic was "Technical Interviews".  The idea was to share ideas and best practices across the product team so that we can better find and recruit great developers for the team.   HubSpot has had a bit of an unfair advantage when it comes to technical recruiting.  We're fortunate to have Paul English, founder/CTO as a friend (he's hands down the best recruiter I've ever met).  Paul was kind enough to be "CTO for a day" at HubSpot.  And, because Google Ventures is an investor, we've been able to have a Googler from their recruiting team spend a few hours with us, reviewing our practices and giving us tips for how we can improve them.  

Ideas for Creating An Awesome Candidate Experience (CX)

Here are some ideas for what I think would make a great candidate experience.  Many of these ideas are implemented at HubSpot -- and I'm hoping the others will get adopted too.  We have some work to do ourselves, but we're passionate about building an amazing product team in Boston.

1. Decide to do it.  The first step in creating a great candidate experience (CX) is deciding that it's important.  Just like you'd commit time and energy for creating a great UX for your product, you need to devote some calories to iterating on your CX and working had to make it exceptional.  There are a number of reasons you should do this:

a) Recruiting great people is hard -- and competitive.  All things being equal, on average, if you can make the candidate experience better, you win.  People will often take positions with lesser known companies simply because they had a great interviewing experience.

2. Focus on the entire experience.  Designing a great candidate experience is not just about doing interviews well.  A great CX starts from the moment a person connects with your company (like your website) all the way through the point that they are delivered a decision -- and every step in between.

3. Measure it to improve it.  It's not possible to create a great CX without getting feedback from candidates.  What I'd suggest is a simple NPS (Net Promoter Score) style survey at the end of the candidate interviewing process.  The survey asks exactly two questions:

a) On a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend that a friend or family member interview here?

b) Why did you give us that score?

You don't have to use these specific questions -- the benefit is that NPS is that it is simple, and widely used as a way to measure customer satisfaction (or more accurately, customer delightion).   We use NPS in a variety of ways at HubSpot -- including measuring the happiness of our customers and team members.

Some quick notes on collecting this feedback:  First, It should be collected before a final decision is delivered, so you get unbiased data.  Second, it should be made clear to the candidate that they are doing you a favor.  There's no harm in telling a candidate exactly why you're asking for this feedback.  In almost all cases, the candidate would likely see this as a positive signal.  It shows that you care.

4. Interviews are both a buying and selling process.  One of the mistakes inexperienced interviewers often make is behaving as if their job is only to "be convinced" by the candidate that they'd make a good hire.  As a result, they often have an "edge", aren't particularly friendly, and don't do enough to make the candidate feeel comfortable.   That can be a bit disconcerting for the candidate, and creates a sub-optimal candidate experience.  As an interviewer, your job is two-fold:  One, make a rational judgment as to whether you think this person would be a good hire for the team.  Two, ensure that the candidate wants to work at your company.  It's both a buying and a selling process (not just buying).  As it turns out, great people always have options.  Even if they're not a good fit and you decide not to hire -- you want them to leave with as positive an impression as possible.  They may have friends or family that are better fits.  Quick mental hack:  Pretend like every candidate you don't hire is going to become a future potential user/customer.  

5. Be at least a bit organized.  Yes, you're a startup.  Yes, everyone's already working away furiously and interviews are often an unwelcome irritant.  But, that's our problem -- not the candidate's problem.  Spend some time devising at least a simple process to ensure that meetings are scheduled appropriately, the candidate knows what the process is (and how long they'll need to be there) and always, always, always make sure they're feeling comfortable and welcome.  

6. Make speed a feature.  Just like great UX, a great CX is about speed.  Faster is always better.  I've never met someone that thought:  "Boy, am I glad those folks took 2 weeks to get back to me on an answer...".  

7. Have a "guest" tablet available for candidates.  Make sure it's already on your WiFi network, the home page in the browser is your company website.  The idea is to give the candidates something productive to occupy their time with while they're waiting.  They can even play Angry Birds, if they want.  Nothing's worse than sitting in reception, not knowing what the guest WiFi password is, and having to twiddle one's thumbs before an interview.

8. Don't repeat the same topics.  Be organized enough that if the candidate is going to go through multiple interviews, you don't have them cover the same topics multiple times.  That's annoying and a waste of time.  If one interview focuses on their front-end development skills and how well they really understand jQuery, then perhaps the other interview should be more about work style and thoughts on team collaboration.

9. Have a clear feedback/rating system.   You need to have a clear internal rating system so that interviewers can express their overall take.  If the person is an absolute no-hire, that should be clear.  So, your scale could be:  absolutely no hire, leaning against, neutral, leaning in favor, absolutely hire them.  One important point while we're on this topic:  The rating scale is not about the person -- it's about whether this person should be made an offer at this point in time.  I've sometimes seen people give a "high" rating (because the person was really, really good -- and interviewed really well), but then later heard "but I wouldn't hire them."  The reason for the interviews is to make a hiring decision.  Said differently, the ultimate return value of the function is a boolean hire/no-hire NOT awesome/good/not-so-good person.

10. Learn something.  Make every effort to learn something from every candidate.  Just because you're on this side of the hiring table and just because you may be more experienced does not mean you can't learn something from every candidate.  You can. Try to draw out a particular passion that the candidate has.  Perhaps a recent epic debugging victory.  Or, why their editor is the One True Editor To Rule Them All.  Doesn't matter what the topic.  Find what they're passionate about, and genuinely get them to teach you something about it.  (If they're not passionate about anything, you've got a problem).

11. Teach something.  Whether the candidate gets an offer or not, they should have learned something from you.  They need to walk out smarter than they walked in.  (Note: This does not mean you spend 50% of the interview telling them about the proper Pythonic way to do something). 

12. Be transparent.  Make the conversation open.  Let the candidate ask questions that are on their mind.  It could be about team dynamics, work style/hours, financials (growth, cash, etc.), product strategy, dev philosophy, whatever.  Be honest.  If there are some things you can't answer, be honest about that.  But, try to be as transparent as possible -- it makes for a much better candidate experience.

13. No leading of the witnesses.  If you're having multiple people interview a candidate, you need to make sure that the early interviewer(s) don't unduly influence the later ones.  This is important for a couple of reasons:  One, you want multiple viewpoints, not the same viewpoint multiple times.  Second, from the candidate's perspective, if they feel like they got off on the wrong foot in the first interview, you want them to have a reasonable chance of showing off their awesomeness in the subsequent interviews.  

Warning: Controversial Idea coming up:  One of the top areas of debate regarding technical interviewing is wheter you should "fail fast" (or not).  Let me set this up with an example:  Lets say you invite a candidate in for 4 hours for a series of interviews.  Lets say after the first interview, the interviewer is absolutely sure that this candidate is a "no hire".  What do you do? 

a) Thank them for their time and stop the interview process?  The advantage is that you're not expending further (very precious) developer time, when a decision is already made.  The downside is that this is kind of disheartening and deflating for the candidate.  If they were scheduled for 4 hours and you send them home after the first hour, that just doesn't feel good.

b) Continue the interview process?  The advantage is that it's (arguably) a better candidate experience.  You might even suggest that the later interviewers might like the candidate so much that they convince the first interviewer to change their mind.  

My general leaning is not completely cut-off the interview process.  Having said that, there are a few things I'd try:  

i) One, when inviting candidates in, make it a time range instead of an absolute number of hours.  Example:  Please schedule 3-4 hours for your visit.  That way, you could reasonably end the interviews without going through the full "maximum" time.

 ii) Build a reputation for being super-selective, but fair.  Be honest and open about this in the early conversations.  

iii) Consider offering a $100 Amazon gift card for "early exits".  Be transparent and honest.  "I just don't think we have a good fit here and doesn't make sense to put you through more interviews."  UPDATE: I reconsidered this one.  The more I thought about it, the cheesier it sounded.  

14. Get them to code, but let them pick the language.  Coding exercises are a critical part of the interviewing prcoess.  There is no substitute for getting a candidate to do a quick coding exercise (either on a computer or on a whiteboard).  The intent for this exercise is not to test proficiency with a particular language -- but to see if they can "think in code" -- and how they go about doing it.  My advice is to let the candidate pick whatever language they're comfortable with (amongst the mainstream languages available, like Python, Java, Ruby, PHP, Javascript, etc.).  Any of these mainstream languages are more than powerful enough for a coding exercise, and even if you're not completely proficient in a langauge, you'll still get a sense for how the person goes about thinking about a problem and manifesting a solution in code. 

15. Do a friendly follow-up after the offer.  Generally, you'll have someone extend the offer in some formal or semi-formal form.  In addition to that, have one of the designated interviewers follow-up with a quick email (perhaps with a "cc" to the others they met).  Something like:  "Hey, thanks for vistiing HubSpot.  We'd be thrilled to have you join our merry band.  If you ever want to grab coffee or a bite to eat, just drop me a note.  I should probably tear myself away from the computer every now and then anyways..."

What's Your Take?

Whew!  That was a much longer article than I originally intended.  Now, it's your turn.  What do you think would make a great candidate experience?  Any tips or lessons learned from your own experience you'd be willing to share? Please put them in the comments.


Oh, and by the way, if you're an awesome developer (or know one) in the Boston area, you should know about the Boston Battle for recruiting great talent.  Hint:  There's potentially $10,000 cash in it for you.  Why not take HubSpot's own Candidate Experience for a spin?  I promise you won't regret it.  If you're awesome, you can email me directly (dharmesh @ hubspot dot-com), with a link to some evidence of your awesomeness.


Look forward to reading your comments and feedback.  As added incentive, if you share something that the community finds particularly insightful or useful, will send you a $25 Amazon certificate.  No limit to the number of "winners".  Ready?  GO!

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How To Hire Hackers: A Realistic Guide For Startups

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Nov 15, 2012


The following is a guest post by Iris Shoor. She's a co-founder at Takipi, a new startup looking to change the way developers work in the cloud. Previously, she was co-founder at VisualTao, a B2B startup acquired by Autodesk.

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Call them hackers, ‘ninjas’, or ‘rock stars’ if you’d like. Other than being very talented developers, they all share one thing in common -- it’s unbelievably hard to bring them on-board your company. And as if competing with other companies for the same talent was not enough, being a startup just adds more challenges to the equation. Your startup may be the next Google/Facebook/Instagram, but until then - how can you convince the best developers out there to join a company where the CEO’s office is an IKEA desk? Here’s one answer -- recruit like a startup, in a creative and agile way, doing things the way big companies can’t. During the last 5 years I’ve interviewed over 250 candidates and recruited dozens of great engineers. The first interviews took place in our tiny office’s kitchen, and we still managed to convince some of the best candidates to join. There aren’t any magic tricks involved, but here are some tips and methods which helped us get ninjas, rock stars and other highly talented people on-board.

You’re a startup -- have the founders make the first contact.

We lose many potential candidates even before the starting line - we fail to bring them over for a first interview. Some are already talking with too many companies, or decide after a brief visit to your web-site that your startup just isn’t their thing. That’s the point where you can make a difference. Our co-founders (including myself) are in charge of sending the first e-mail to potential candidates. We’ve kept this habit even as we’ve grown. At first, I was worried some candidates may think we have too much free time on our hands (sadly, we don’t). I soon found out that when candidates receive a personal and flattering e-mail (important when it comes to star developers) from a co-founder, it sends a message that this startup is all about its employees. Here are some helpful points for writing the first email:
  • Link to your online profile (personal blog, an interview with you, a YouTube video) when introducing yourself. Once there’s a face behind the email you’re more likely to get a positive response.
  • Add a personal touch. Have other employees who went to the same college? Mention it. Grew up in the same town? Write it down. It might sound irrelevant, but it creates the first hook, enough to have them come over for a meeting.

Interviewing: It’s not just about the role, it’s also about who they will have lunch with.

While we tend to tell candidates everything about the role, the managers and the company, there’s one part that’s usually missing - who will they work with? One of the most common answers I get when asking people why they've chosen one job over the other is knowing other employees there. Let candidates know who'll be sitting next to their (IKEA) desk and sharing their 9GAG jokes.
  • When candidates come for an interview we try to have them meet at least one future co-worker. A candidate asks a good tech question during the interview? Refer him to the engineer working on it instead of answering yourself. Found out the candidate has something in common with one of the employees (skydiving, growing up in Ohio, have a thing for ASCII art)? Introduce them. It’s not something we plan ahead, but given the opportunity, having the candidate stay at the office after the interview chatting with other employees, is considered a success.
  • Don’t interview too early or too late during the day, when the office is empty. If the only time your future star can come in for an interview is 8:00am, make sure some people come early. You want to paint a full picture of what it will be like working at your startup.
[You don’t need a fancy office to make good impression - the small details do the job. Our entrance door has code on it and these are our meeting room custom coasters ]


Interviewing: Choose carefully which opportunity to pitch.

There truly are great things about joining a startup - new technological challenges, opportunities for moving up the ladder more quickly, learning about the business side of things, stock options and more. Don’t sell them all at once. Pitching becoming a manager to an engineer who just wants to experiment with new technologies? Bzzzz -- wrong move -- which might send her elsewhere.
  • Look back - When we first started interviewing we used to ask candidates what they’re looking for. Instead of sharing their true motivations, they answered with what they thought was the ‘right’ answer -- “I just want to work on interesting stuff”. After a while we discovered the magic trick; instead of asking what they’re looking for now, we began asking how they've made previous job decisions. When asked about past decisions, people tend to share what really matters to them.
  • Don’t pitch, give examples - You can’t really promise someone that he or she will become a manager in the future, or only work on interesting stuff. Instead, I tell candidates what talented people who've joined the company a year ago are doing now. This could be how an engineer with no previous management experience is already heading a small team, or how a developer straight out of college is doing such a great job we’ve put her in charge of some very key algorithms.

Signing: How to make candidates sign an employment agreement more quickly.

You've reached the homestretch. The candidate you really liked said yes, and now all is left is to sign the employment agreement. This can turn into a very risky period. The current employer is likely to come with a counter offer and so can other companies.
  • Important: Avoid having your future star waste time on legal issues. To help with this we've decided to have the exact same employment agreement for everyone in the company. Other than the terms themselves, everything is the same - from the number of vacation days down to the small letters. It’s a super friendly agreement and we never change it. Once I tell candidates that everyone -- the CEO, the engineers and myself have all signed the exact same contract, and therefore we can’t change it, it usually takes them only a day or two to sign it. There’s much less need to re-read every part.
  • Scott Weiss from A16Z shares a great tip about the pre-signing period with the ‘Welcome basket’.


How to hear ‘No” and how to say ‘No’

  • Hearing No - Stay in touch with good candidates who chose a different company over yours. When a candidate I really like accepts a different offer over ours I always get the feeling I was dumped. True, I can’t honestly say I don’t understand how can someone pick a great job at Google over a small and unknown startup, but it still hurts. While the easiest thing to do after hearing a ‘No’ is, well, nothing, I try to make one last effort to stay in the picture. There are two main reasons for it : 1). Startups grow quickly. You might have a good candidate who decided a 10 employee company is not for him/her but a year or two later as your company grows it will become much more attractive. 2). Receiving a negative answer usually means you've reached second place. Sometimes, the first choice doesn't turn out to be the dream job they were hoping for. Some candidates don’t feel comfortable getting back in touch after they gave you a negative answer. By making the first move you’re saying that everything is fine and we’re still interested in you. Yes, it’s very much like dating. How to keep yourself in the picture? I like to send FB friend requests to candidates, and that’s something that you can do only as a startup (it can get pretty awkward when done by someone from a large company). Facebook is a great platform to share how well your startup is doing over the years. I also like sending an email once every 4-6 months, sharing how we’re doing and asking how’s everything going. I found out that most people find it friendly (and somehow flattering) rather than annoying.
  • Saying No - giving a smart negative answer will help you reach other great engineers in the future. I often ask myself how I would have liked to receive a “No”. My answer is that I would like to hear the truth. Instead of using the default answer of “we've decided to continue the process with someone else”, I write the (sometime hard) truth- “You didn't pass the technical test’, ‘you don’t seem like a startup kind of guy’, ‘it seems like you’re more interested in managing and that’s something we can’t offer right now’. I also make sure to write some of the things I liked about the candidate. True, there are some cases you can’t write the real reason, but in most cases you can. I was terrified when I sent the first 100% sincere email, but I soon found out that candidates embrace this, and usually agree with the reason. Now comes the interesting part - instead of feeling rejected, most people rightly feel they interviewed for the wrong role. Once you don’t ‘break-up’ with them, you can ask them to recommend friends or co-workers they think could fit the position. Yep, it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Even if you don’t get a new lead, rest assured you’ll have a past candidate saying good things about your company, and that’s something great in itself.

How about you? Any lessons you've learned while trying to hire great developers for your team? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Startups: Stop Trying To Hire Ninja-Rockstar Engineers

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Aug 06, 2012

This is a guest post by Avi Flombaum. Avi is the Dean of The Flatiron School, an intensive program to learn Ruby on Rails in New York. He was formerly the co-founder and CTO at Designer Pages. You can follow him at @aviflombaum or @flatironschool.

Hiring technical talent is often cited as one of the most difficult parts of scaling a startup. Great companies are built by great teams so naturally, when it comes to technical talent, companies are competing harder than ever to entice the best of the best. The rationale you'll typically hear is along the lines of "a great developer is 10x as productive as a mediocre one." That might be true, but it is an impractical startup hiring strategy.

While companies fight tooth and nail over engineers with MIT or Stanford degrees with years of experience, as CTO of designer pages, my best hires were consistently entry-level developers that I developed on the job. Some companies, like Zendesk and GeneralThings have already realized this and are working with schools like Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco, The Flatiron School in New York (of which I'm a co-founder) and Code Academy in Chicago to hire their newly minted web development graduates. Aside from the fact that they're significantly easier to attract, there are tremendous benefits to the dev small

1. Cost- Starting salaries for senior developers have skyrocketed in the past few years. The average starting salary for a senior Ruby developer has climbed to $94,000 ($107,000 in Silicon Valley). Compare that with the average salary for a junior Ruby developer, $70,000, ($80,000 in Silicone Valley). At that rate, you can give a junior developer a 10% raise every year for 3 years at the end of which you'd have an experienced senior employee who's been with you that long and is still costing less than a new senior hire.
2. Attitude- Anyone that gets courted the way a senior engineer does today is at risk of developing a sense of entitlement (to put it lightly). When I hired 'rockstars' at Designer Pages, the requests became increasingly ludicrous. Senior engineers had four-day weeks, required conference budgets, and refused to adhere to the language and technology standards the company had established. They always knew best and felt that we were lucky to have them. Junior devs on the other hand, are hungry. They want to prove themselves and are eager to learn. And assuming you're fostering the right culture, are excited to be part of your team.
3. Turnover- High turnover is the easiest way to kill a product. In The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick Brooks discusses problems inherent in a system designed by a succession of leaders, each with his own style and ideas: "I will contend that conceptual integrity is the most important consideration in system design. It is better to have a system omit certain anomalous features and improvements, but to reflect one set of design ideas, than to have one that contains many good but independent and uncoordinated ideas."
Great companies need great engineers who want to solve complex problems. But the majority of work being done on a typical web application does not require a team full of PhD's with 10 years experience, making it no surprise that senior engineers quickly get bored and seek out other opportunities. By hiring junior developers and ensuring they're getting the continual training and development that they need, you can ensure that they stay engaged and derive as much personal and professional value out of your company as your company derives from them.
4. Culture- A prerequisite for being a great programmer is a love of learning. Unfortunately, many senior engineers come with a lot of baggage; they want to work on specific problems, in specific languages, and have little patience for the inexperienced n00b. By hiring junior engineers, and giving them the training and development they need to flourish, not only can you align everyone's technical styles under a cohesive vision, you can more easily create a culture wherein it is expected for the senior employees to mentor and coach new hires, just as they were coached when they first started.
To be clear, this isn't true in every case. I happen to know plenty of incredibly humble, loyal, and generous (though not cheap), senior engineers. And if you're trying to build a better search engine, or solve the world's most complex data problems, you probably do need to recruit from the top 1%. Most companies though just need great leaders who can help their teams think through the difficult questions, and team members who are wiling to work together to implement creative solutions. The bottom line is that for most products, seeking out rockstar senior engineers is like hiring Picasso to paint your apartment.
So what's the best way to put this plan into action? Here are some things I found to be effective when developing junior engineers at Designer Pages:
1 - Deploy on Day One- Making engineers deploy code on their first day is the single best way to get them feeling great about their ability to acclimate and impact change in your organization. Companies like Etsy actually have a hard-and-fast rule that all engineers should deploy to production on day one.
2 - Assign Mentors- Lots of companies say they mentor their employees. I've found that unless this is systematized, senior employees get too busy to dedicate the necessary amount of time. Make sure every new hire has a mentor to pair with basically all-day for at least the first two weeks.
3 - Foster Productivity Early- The best way to sharpen a programmers skills is to write code. Junior engineers shouldn't be trying to learn legacy systems when they first arrive- let them work in as fresh a codebase as possible so they can get cranking right away.
4 - Invest in Training- Nothing will give you a better ROI on your time than making sure your employees are well trained. Create a learning plan for each hire for the first 3-6 months, complete with recommended reading, that applies to the projects they are working on.
5 - Be patient. :)
At the end of the day, when you hire junior developers, you are investing in people. You are creating a culture of growth, promotion, and learning that will pay for itself multiple times over. And it will also help you recruit the Ninja-Rockstars when you actually need them ;).
What do you think?  What's been your experience in terms of bringing on junior members to the team vs. the almost mythical ninja-rockstar engineers?

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Startup Lessons From 17 Hard-Hitting Quotes In "Moneyball"

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Feb 02, 2012

I'm an idiot. Not all of the time, mind you, not even most of the time, but every now and then, I'm an idiot. Like the time my friend and co-founder Brian Halligan asked me to read the book “Moneyball”. This was back when we had first launched our startup, HubSpot. “But, I'm not a baseball guy,” I said. “It's not about baseball. It's about data.” And, I put it on my reading list, and then still failed to read it. I even bought the book, but still failed to read it That was a mistake. moneyball

I just got done watching the movie “Moneyball” for the second time. The first time I watched it was last night. It's the only time I've watched the same movie twice in two days. It's not just because it was a great movie (it was), but because I felt I missed so much the first time, that I had to watch it a second. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you should stop reading this article and go watch it. If you get distracted and never make it back to this article, I forgive you.

So, without further ado, here are some great quotes from Moneyball

Brilliant Startup Lessons From Moneyball

1. He passes the eye candy test. He's got the looks, he's great at playing the part.

Spectacular startup success often becomes a game about scouting and recruiting. A common mistake entrepreneurs make is recruiting team members early on simply because they look the part. In the long run, it doesn't matter if on paper, someone's perfect. You want people that can actually do the job. That VP of Sales candidate that has 15 years of experience at Oracle? Likely not worth it for you. They'll look the part, but they're not guaranteed to be able to actually do the job. And, like Johnny Damon, they're going to be expensive. Get good at seeing talent where others don't.

For example, at HubSpot, most of the early team did not look good on paper at all.  Most of us had little or no prior background doing what we were setting out to do.  

2. You're not solving the problem. You're not even looking at the problem.

Identify a fundamental problem and then focus, focus, focus on solving that problem. Don't get distracted by all the the things that are swirling around the actual problem. Don't listen too closely to those that have deep industry expertise and are emotionally attached to the status quo — it's possible that they're part of the problem. Figure out what the actual issue is, and solve it.

For example, look at Dropbox.  Drew set out to solve a really hard problem -- getting data to synch across different devices.  He had many people (including me) that were telling him that this particular idea had been pursued so many times before.  He didn't get distracted by all that noise.  He dug in and fixed the problem.  Today, Dropbox is valued at billions of dollars and has millions of happy users.

3. We've got to think differently.

Reminds me of Apple. Only, Steve Jobs wrote it as ”think different” (intentionally going with the grammatically incorrect version because it “sounded better”).  Like the Oakland As, your startup too is working under constraints.  Often, big constraints.  Often, unfair constraints.  If you're trying to disrupt the status quo and beat competitors that are much bigger and better funded, you're not going to do it by playing their game.  You'll need to think differently.  Playing the old way when you're at a disadvantage is a sure-fire way to lose.

This is one that I'm personally very passionate about.  When we started HubSpot, everything we had learned about startups -- and the convention wisdom was "do one thing, and do it very, very well."  Generally, that's really, really good advice.  Except when it's not.  Like in our case.  The problem we saw was not that there weren't great marketing apps out there -- the problem was that none of it was integrated or worked well together.  So, we thought different.  We decided to do the crazy, crazy thing of doing it all.  Why?  Because that's what we believed the problem was.

4. First job in baseball? It's my first job anywhere.

Experience is often over-rated. Some of the most successful startup teams consisted of people that lacked relevant experience at the time they joined. But, what they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in sheer talent and hunger. In the early days, hire athletes. People with raw talent and a propensity to get things done. Don't be resistent to recruiting people that are early in their careers.  You're looking for arbitrage opportunities.  You're looking for the future stars -- because you likely can't afford or convince the current stars.  

5. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins.

I'm going to illustrate this point with a quick paraphrasing with a conversation I had with an entrepreneur last year. It went roughly like this:

Me: What do you need?

Them: We need to build a management team.

Me: No, what do you actually need right now?

Them: Well, right now we need a VP Engineering.

Me. What for?

Them: Well, we need head up our product development effort.

Me. No, you actually need to write code and release a product. You need to respond to customer issues. You need to iterate quickly so you can learn quickly. You don't need a VP of anything, you need a doer of stuff that needs to get done. Don't think about buying titles — think about buying outcomes.  Think about plugging gaping holes in the company.  Signing up customers so fast that you can't respond to all the support emails?  Don't hire a head of support, hire someone that helps you tackle the support issue.  Someone that's maniacally committed to customer happiness.  They can become your head of support some day.

6. He really needs to accept this as life's first occupation, a first career.

This statement was made to the young Billy Beane when he was trying to decide between the full scholarship to Stanford and a career in Major League Baseball. Billy's mom asked if he could do both. The answer was, he couldn't. And, that's true in baseball, in startups and just about any hyper-competitive activity. You can't straddle the fence, because you will get your ass kicked by someone who's almost as good as you, but much more committed. You can't take that investment banking job and do a startup. You can't maintain two feet firmly planted on the ground and take the leap of faith. You have to pick. It's not an easy choice, but you have to pick. And, if you're in school, my personal (and unpopular in some startup circles) advice is stay in school . Make learning and building connections your “first occupation”.

But whatever you do, don't sit on the fence.  Commit to something.  Don't hedge.  Give it all you have.  Make it your life's first occupation.  If you can't get excited about it -- find something else.  I've made lots of stupid mistakes in my professional career -- the stupidest was trying to run two startups at the same time.  That's a story for another day.  I'm going to close with a quote from my co-founder at the first startup: "If you sit on the fence too long, your genitals are going to hurt."

7. Why do you like him? Because he gets on base.

The startup world is filled with superstars that get overlooked or don't quite make it because they're "quirky" or otherwise don't fit preconceived patterns of what you think a person in a given role should look and feel like.  None of that matters.  When recruiting engineers, find brilliant people that write code that solves the problem simply, effectively and can be maintained without brain damage.  When hiring sales people find those that have high emotional IQ and care about truly understanding customer problems -- and selling them a solution.  Figure out what success looks like for a given role, and ignore the irrelevant details.  (Note:  Culture fit is not an irrelevant detail.  Things that are irrelevant are age, nationality, gender, etc. -- things that have no bearing on the outcome).

10. Hey, anything worth doing is hard. And we're gonna teach you.

Your ability to teach is one of the single biggest levers you have in a startup.  Why?  First, because it's one of the biggest benefits you can deliver to your team members.  They can get a higher salary somewhere else.  They can get better perks somewhere else.  But, at your startup, they can learn things.  Second, it's unlikely you're going to find the "perfect" 5-tool player.  Even if you found them, you likely couldn't afford them.  If you're willing to help people with a specific super-power fill in gaps in their knowledge/experience, you create lots of value.

12. It's day one of the first week. You can't judge just yet.

Be a little bit patient.  Often, your best people will take a little time to really shine.  Don't judge too early. Determine the context.  If someone's not cranking yet, is it because getting up to speed is hard?  Everyone's too busy to show them ropes? Their lack of early performance could be the context, so be patient

But, don't be too patient.  If someone isn't at least moderately productive in the first month or two, it's unlikely they're going to be super-productive in the following year.  The really great people tend to deliver some value almost immediately.

14. Where on the field is the dollar I'm paying for soda?

It is good to be budget-conscious in an early-stage company.  Instills the right kind of discipline that will help long-term.  But, don't be a penny wise and a pound foolish.  There are little things that don't cost that much, that makes people happier.  It's not about the money (they can all afford the soda), it's about the inconvenience and the principle.  Remember, deep down inside, people are human.  [smile] 

One quick example from HubSpot:  We launched a book program whereby any employee can request any book they think makes them a better HubSpotter.  I personally handle all requests and send out a Kindle version of the book immediately.  It's not that expensive, but it's been super-well received.  

15. These are hard rules to explain to people. Why is that a problem, Pete?

One of the best segments in the movie.  Pete is troubled at how different what they're doing is, and why it's hard to get others to understand and accept it.  But, the point was, when you're transforming something and making massive change, not everyone is going to understand.  The important thing is to be right -- and then make the change happen.  The best way to convince people that your theory was right is to be right and show them (not tell them) you're right.  Most people will never be convinced otherwise.

16. I'm not paying you for the player you used to be, I'm paying you for the player you are right now.

Hard-hitting advice.  I'd extend this to say:  Recruit on potential but reward on performance.  Customers are not going to be delighted by the code a brilliant engineer could have written.  On a related note is the quote "If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good?" Or, "If she's such a good sales person, why can't she sell?"

17. We're going to change the game.

And really, that's what it's all about.  It's not about exiting for millions of dollars or going public.  It's about changing the game.  It's about seeing something that's not quite right in the world, and deciding you want to fix it.  For me, personally, it was observing that marketing is broken.  Most people hate marketing.  we want to transform marketing into something people love.  It's hugely ambitious, but I have this feeling, deep-down inside, that we're right.

How about you?  What is the flaw (big or small) that you're seeing in the universe that you're trying to fix?  Any favorite lines from Moneyball that you'd like to share?

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HubSpot Fires First Shot in Boston Battle For Talent: $10,000 Bounty

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Jan 24, 2011

Over on the west coast, companies like Google and Facebook are duking it out for top tech talent.  There’s all sorts of craziness going on including 10% across the board raises and big bonuses. Back here in Boston, there’s a similar battle for talent brewing.  Except, here in Boston, we’re kind of polite and a tad overly sane (there’s not enough craziness).  So, nobody really comes right out and says that there’s a battle for tech talent going on in Boston.  So, I’m going to go ahead and say it.cannon

There’s a battle for brilliant developers going on in Boston! 

There, I said it.  I feel much better now.  All anyone seems to talk about around here is startup funding and whether or not Boston VCs invest aggressively enough in consumer Internet companies.  But, I’m going to argue that for awesome startups, raising funding is actually easier these days than recruiting great developers.  I personally know a dozen startups in the Boston area that are all looking for great developers (I’m an angel investor in half of them).

So, who wins in the battle for tech talent?  Why, it’s the talent!  Why?  Because as in most situations where demand greatly exceeds supply, it’s a seller’s market.  (That’s an MBA way of saying, “you’re going to do really well….”)  So, instead of startups interviewing developers, in reality, it’s more that developers are interviewing startups.  Life is good for you, esteemed awesome developers!

We’re working on making HubSpot a magnet for technology talent in the Boston area, like Facebook is on the west coast.  We’ve got tough software problems to solve, millions of users, lots of capital, cool office space, and some of the smartest developers around. 

In order to officially kick off the Boston battle for talent, we’re doing a few somewhat crazy things (crazy for Boston, at least). Here’s what we’ve got lined up so far:

a) Refer A Developer, Make $10,000.  If you know a brilliant developer, refer them to HubSpot.  Not only will you be helping them join a great software company in Boston, you’ll get a $10,000 bonus for yourself.  Think of the gadgets you could buy!  Check out the “Refer A Developer” program.hubspot refer developer $10k

b) Many Will Enter, Few Will Emerge — With A Free iPad.  Any developer that gets called in for the final HubSpot interview (you don’t even have to survive it, or be offered a job), gets a free iPad, just for playing.  Oh, and before you think we’re super-crazy, know that we are notoriously selective.  In fact, I’m not sure that if I weren’t the founder, I’d be able to make it that far.  Seriously.  Our dev team is super picky. 

c) $4,000 shopping spree.  Any developer that joins HubSpot gets to go on a $4,000 hardware/gadget shopping spree.  They get to pick out stuff that they can somewhat rationalize will make them more productive and/or happy.  Popular options include the new Macbook Air, a big second monitor and one of the cool new Android phones (which we hear, can actually make phone calls).    [Note to self:  Now that iPhone’s available on Verizon, probably need to stop making iPhone jokes].

So, the question is, is all this craziness diabolically clever or an act of desperation?  That depends.  The difference between crazy and genius is whether it works. 

Of course, we’ve been doing other things to build the awesome team we already have.  If the company sucked, no amount of recruitment shenanigans would work, so we first made sure not to suck. 

Here are some reasons why we think you (or someone you know) should check us out.

Reasons You Or Someone You Know Should Interview (At) HubSpot

1. A compelling vision that helps millions of people:  Great developers like building products with broad appeal and wide reach.  They like to have impact and influence.  We do that at HubSpot.  Our marketing software has been built for small businesses.  We’re rallying against old-school marketing like junk mail, spam and cold calls.  The message is resonating really well.  We reach millions of users every month, and have 4,000 customers.  With this kind of scale comes great challenges.  Like figuring out how to store and analyze terabytes of data (and heading towards petabytes alarmingly fast). Or, creating a user experience that your Uncle Leo could use (because someone’s Uncle Leo does). 

2. Shiny, Happy People:  Last year, we were voted one of the best companies to work for in the Boston area by the Boston Business Journal (our friends at Google were #2).  We asked people why the heck they were so happy (besides the spiked slushies), and they said, somewhat recursively, “…I’m happy because I get to work with other smart, happy, passionate people.”  We have the reverse Lake Wobegon effect.  Several times a week, you will walk into a room and feel you brought the average IQ down.  Seriously, you will. 

3. A Real Salary:  We’ve raised $33 million in venture capital from some of the best VCs on the planet.  We have millions still left in the bank and revenues are growing like wildfire.  So at HubSpot, you don’t have to be paid in hugs and options and work on the “deferred compensation plan” (which is basically, “we can’t really afford to pay you right now — but just as soon as we get those customers/investors/grandparents/governments to give us some cash, you’ll be first in line!”).  You actually get a real salary, making your friends and family proud and/or envious.  We’ve heard that money is useful for buying stuff.  So, come help us spend some of those venture capital dollars towards a good cause.

Note: I’m not suggesting that it’s not a good idea to work for an early-stage startup — they’re totally cool.  But if you do, it should either a) be your own and/or b) be one that you are totally passionate about.

4. Options/Equity:  Yep, we have those too.  Every developer at HubSpot gets a stake in our future.  The difference between options at HubSpot and most other startups, is that the share price has just kept going up and up and up.  And, we think our best years are still ahead of us.  It’s a bit like joining Facebook in the early years, only not. 

5. We don’t want to just build software, we want to build entrepreneurs:  We want to build a big, successful company in the Boston area.  Obviously, creating great software is a big part of that.  But, we’re also passionate about seeding the next generation of entrepreneurs.  If you have the entrepreneurial gene, we fully expect that you’ll meet and work with your future co-founders at HubSpot.  We also have one of the best startup networks imaginable. 

6. We’ll Raise Your Currency:  HubSpot has an exceptionally strong reputation.  We’re known for hiring kick-ass people and not suffering fools.  So, if for some silly reason, you decide to leave us someday, the fact that you’ve been on the HubSpot team is going to wonders for your credibility (not that you needed help on that front).

7. Strict “No Jerks” Rule:  We don’t hire jerks.  Period.  If your normal disposition is to be negative and cranky, and it can’t be explained by a temporary lack of caffeine, you won’t fit in at HubSpot.  We’re intense at HubSpot, but it’s a good intense.  The reason for the “no jerks” rule is simple — for those of us that are not jerks, working with jerks is a whole lot of suckiness.  Life is short.  Why work with jerks?

8. Cool Stuff Shopping Spree:  We got tired of arguing about whether this MacBook Pro or that Thinkpad was better.  Or whether big second monitors really did help productivity (they do).  So, every developer that joins HubSpot gets $4,000 to go buy stuff.  You decide what’s going to make you super-productive.  [Oh, and if you just happen to want to buy that latest Android tablet because you’re thinking about doing a side project some day, I say go for it.  ]

9. Office Space For Happy Humans:  The nice thing about having lots of customers and fast growing revenues is that we can afford to invest in great working conditions.  We work in a well lit, comfortable, fun, cool office space.  Don’t take our word for it, check out some photos, or just come visit [we have every Friday at 4pm — and there’s free beer]. 

10. Hyper Transparency:  One of the core components of HubSpot’s culture is hyper transparency.  Every employee in the company has access to most of the company’s critical data — including financials.  This includes customers, revenue, burn-rate, cash in the bank, valuation of last venture round, notes from “strategic” meetings, plans for future financing.  Just about everything.  Our default position is:  “Unless you have really good reason to keep it secret, don’t make it a secret.”  We trust ourselves to use all of this information wisely, and so our default mode is “open”.

11. The “Take What You Need” Vacation Policy:  Over a year ago, the topic of a vacation policy came up in a management meeting.  We didn’t have a policy, and someone suggested we should have one.  Our CEO pushed back, with a “why”?  Net result:  We decided our policy would be to have no policy.  Members of the team take as much vacation as they need.  There’s no approval, no paperwork, no tracking, no accruing — nothing.  Contrary to what some outsiders may have believed, the company did not die.  It’s working great. 

12. Friends In Cool Places:  We believe in being an active member of the startup community inside and outside of Boston.  As such, we're well connected with a bunch of startup celebrities: Drew Houston (DropBox) -- he's on our advisory board.  Jason Fried (37signals).  Joel Spolsky (Stack Overflow), Mike McDerment (Freshbooks).  Adam Smith (ex-Xobni).  Alexis Ohanian (Y Combinator, Reddit) -- also on our advisory board.  Eric Ries (we're major lean startup fans). Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz, and SEO Extraordinaire). Hiten Shah (KissMetrics).  Dan Martell (Flowtown).    If that isn't enough name dropping for you, we've got more. So, what's the point of all of this (other than showing off)?  Well, we learn from all of these great entrepreneurs.  We hang out with them for beers.  They come do guest talks at HubSpot.  It's awesome.

13. Ping Pong:  Yes, we have a table, that’s not a big deal.  What we’re proud of is that our CEO, CTO, our VP Platform, VP Customer Happiness, VP Sales all play ping-pong.  Heck, even our CFO can play ping pong and chances are he can kick your ass. [Feel free to challenge him, but don't let him charge you for a beer -- they're free at HubSpot].

14. We're Good Peeps:  I know this one's a tad subjective, but ask around.  If you know anyone that knows HubSpot (and you should), ask them about the people.  Chances are they'll say good things. 

OK, I could drone on and on, but I think, you get the point.  We're a fun place to work, growing crazy fast and all modesty aside the place you want to be if you're awesome and can code.  You'll be the envy of your friends and family ("what, you got a job at HubSpot -- that's cool!"). 

I'll even make the initial process painless for you.  Just go to this page and enter your email address and a URL of some page that shows me your awesomeness.  I'll personally check you out and see if it's worth going to the next step.  If you ask me nicely, I'll even tell you what your odds are of making it to the final interview and getting the free iPad.

What do you think?  Any other ideas for attracting great developers?  Did you think this set of ideas was diabolically clever or a tad too desperate?  Would love to read your comments.

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Commit To Your Core: 9 Reasons Why Every Entrepreneur Should Outsource

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Dec 02, 2010

The following is a guest post by Scott Dinsmore.  Scott is an entrepreneur, Personal Freedom Coach and value investor. Read more of his articles at Reading For Your Success or grab his free eBook.

The day of the founder doing everything is dead. No one is really a salesperson, marketer, graphic designer, developer and customer service rep. As an entrepreneur you may do all these things, but that doesn't mean that's the smartest way to run your business.

Years ago Michael Gerber coined the the term E-Myth, referring to the entrepreneurial myth of people going into business to do what they love, only to realize that 80% of the business has nothing to do with their passion--but instead with building and running a sourcing

This often results in one of two outcomes: The founder hates his job or the business fails--usually the former follows the latter quite closely.

It shouldn't be this way and it doesn't have to be.

I’ve started two businesses in the past two years. Outsourcing made this possible. Without it I'd be nowhere. With it, I have two profitable ventures and the time to think and work on the projects that make the biggest difference in each of them.

Outsourcing has become a must. As a founder and entrepreneur, you can't afford not to. Here's why.

1. You need a prototype early. Scratching your idea on a cocktail napkin long after you should be at home is a start, but only a start. You need a prototype to sell your vision- to friends, investors, your future team and charter customers. Depending on your skill-set, you may need a designer, developer, artist or a kick-ass storyteller to get you a presentation-worthy prototype fast and on the cheap. Any of this can and should be outsourced .

2. You need to stay lean. As entrepreneurs we live and die by our burn rate. While you may need help with a website or prototype early on, you cannot hire someone fulltime from the start, especially before you've sorted out how you'll structure pay, stock options and the other headache-creating benefits. It's premature and expensive. You are likely still forming your crystal clear vision. You no doubt need help, but you may need very specialized help. That's what outsourcing is made for. Hire your generalists and outsource your specialists. Only pay for what you need, no matter what stage your business is in.

3. Test your team. Regardless of how much capital you have, no one can afford to hire a dud. Whether you outsource or not, starting out with a trial (via internship, project-based work or some sweet competition) is a must. You may be looking for a team in India or right down the street from you. You can screen by location (and a ton of other criteria) with the resources I mention below. Get clear on what you need and find the people who were made for the role. Let them know a full-time job is on the line. That'll get the healthy competition cooking. Hiring and firing is a pain in the ass (and expensive). Try before you buy, and avoid those duds.

4. Be forced to know what you want. Since outsourcing is project and skill set based, it forces an entrepreneur to do something most never fully do — define their vision and the actual tasks they need done to make it happen. Sure, these will change over time, but nothing is more frustrating than hiring someone (or being hired) when neither side has a clue what the target is. If you don't know the skills you need then how could you ever expect to hire the right person? Founders are notorious for loving the vision but avoiding the details. Force yourself to take your medicine.

5. Live and die by the 80/20 rule-Only do what you're best at. Say you started a business because you know AJAX, MySQL, PHP or some other technologies above most the world's head, and you are going to build a kick-ass web app with it. Then how much sense does it make for you to be burying yourself in PhotoShop trying to create a logo? None! You have super human strengths (we all do) and you know what they are. Things you feel you can do better than most anyone in the world. That is your personal edge. Leverage it as much as possible. This is your 20%. Focus all your attention on the 20% of your workday that truly moves the needle, based on your natural strengths, and outsource the rest. This might mean customer service, design, social media marketing or coding. It's your job to assess yourself and your team. If you aren't lights-out good at it, find someone else to do it. They'll do it better, in less time, and surely for less money.

6. You can't afford not to. Would you believe me if I told you I have a team in India who handles all my SEO/SEM, deep analytics, web research, graphics and coding for between $3-$5/hour? I do. Ravi leads the team. He has for three years. He's loyal, trustworthy, wicked smart and best of all, he works his ass off. These guys have college and advanced degrees and are happy to work for rates often between $5-$20/hour for just about any technical task you could imagine. But the real clincher is how hungry they are. Not only are they qualified to do the work, they will do it in half or a fourth the time. It's pure geo-arbitrage. The pay is great for them and the output is awesome for us. Does it get anymore win/win?

7. You are worth more than you think. If you're telling me you could do the stuff yourself for cheaper, remember the 80/20 rule. Just because you can do it yourself does not mean it makes any sense to do so. First off realize that as a sharp entrepreneur with fire in his belly, your time is worth a lot. I'd say $50/hr at the least. This may help make the decision. And don't forget about the opportunity cost. Your mind and time are your most valuable assets. Spend them wisely.

8. You can outsource anything. Literally anything...Over my past four years, I've outsourced more business jobs than I thought possible and more personal tasks than some would consider appropriate. The only limit is your creativity. Here's a taste of projects I've sent afar so I can focus on my core of writing, coaching, investing and business building:

  • web research
  • customer service
  • accounting
  • web and blog design
  • blog and copy writing
  • blog comment moderation
  • locate best courses in your area for various subjects
  • voice transcription
  • SEO, SEM and Social Media Marketing
  • personal or administrative tasks, travel plans
  • locating the perfect gift on Valentine's Day (who said it has to be all business?)

For more ideas check out Elance's 100 Projects You Can Outsource.

9. It feels awesome to know someone's working as you sleep. No joke. Not only is it unbelievably efficient, but it's just plain fun to have all your tasks completed while your off dreaming (since some of the best outsourcers are found in India and other cheap foreign lands), leaving you ready to keep the ball rolling when you wake. And there you have it. The holy grail: You've found a way to work 24/7 without losing your life.

Where to outsource.

The list is endless but the below should be all you need. I've had personal experience with most of these.
  • Elance- One stop shop for anything outsource
  • V Worker (formerly Rent A Coder)- More technical focus
  • Fiverr- Every job for five bucks, graphic design to grocery shopping
  • Ask Sunday- Large team for any task under the sun
  • Virtual Assistant Board- Job board for outsourcers and providers

You're a Founder, Now Start Thinking like a CEO.

What does a CEO actually do? They don't build products, they build businesses. They are nothing more than master outsourcers. Their expertise is having a vision and creating and motivating the right team of superb skill to make it reality. They don't bury themselves in a manual to learn Photo Shop to design their website. They find a designer so they can keep the train moving forward. There is no pride in doing everything yourself. If you expect to really be competitive, it's impossible. Spend your time on the work you know deep down only you can do. The work that will really change the world. Find someone else to do the rest and success starts to become a lot more realistic.

So, what do you think?  Have you tried outsourcing non-critical tasks that are not your superpower?  How did it go?  Would you do it again? Would love to hear your experiences and lessons learned in the comments.

One More Thing...A FREE Special Event And Gift To The OnStartups Community

OnStartups is helping put on a free "virtual event" in conjunction with the PlusConf crew on December 7.  It starts at 12 pm EST, is 100% free, and all you need is a computer with an internet connection.  Speakers include some awesome Boston natives such as David Cancel of Performable and Todd Garland of BuySellAds.
OnStartups Presents PlusConf

Where: Anywhere in the world via your browser at

When: 12/7/2010 12:00 PM EST

More Info: 
Register For FREE At
Learn from the most successful web app founders and CEOs on what makes your startup tick.  

Speakers include:

Hiten Shah- CEO of KissMetrics

David Cancel- CEO of Performable

Todd Garland- CEO of BuySellAds

Noah Kagan- Co-Founder of AppSumo

Dan Martell- Co-Founder of FlowTown

Allan Branch- Co-Founder of LessEverything

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