Why Your Startup Shouldn't Hire Seth Godin

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Why Your Startup Shouldn't Hire Seth Godin


A recent article by Zoli Erdos really got me to thinking about startup hiring. The article was titled "Startups: Executive Hiring Challenges or Beware of the Suits".

If you're a startup founder about to hire an executive (particularly if you're using an executive recruiter), you should really take 15 minutes out of your busy day and read Zoli's article. You'll thank me (though you should thank him).

I'm going to lead with a comment I put on Zoli's blog:

A startup should not hire Seth Godin for its VP of Marketing. It should hire the next Seth Godin.

Before I go on, if you don't know who Seth Godin is, feel free to replace with someone else you know who is really successful.

Here's why you shouldn't hire Seth:

1. Though past success is often a predictor of future success, it assumes similar circumstances. If you're hiring some hot-shot executive from Oracel to be your VP of Sales and that executive sold $300MM (or managed people that did), that does not mean they're going to be able to make a single sale for your startup. Or even find people that are going to sell for you. They may just not have it in them.

2. Even if they would be successful at a startup (because their prior success was a startup too), if they've been that successful, they're not going to be particularly hungry and aggressive. Yes, there's a certain floor of passion that some successful people are going to have (they're constitutionally incapable of working 40 hour weeks), but the fire is not going to be the same. They don't have a point to prove. They've already proven it. This is somewhat paradoxical. If they're really as successful and good as they look on paper, they're probably not going to be hungry.

3. Startups are an arbitrage game on many levels -- particularly recruiting. Any chump can pay $250,000 a year plus options and go hire a VP of Marketing with a pedigree. Show me a startup that can recruit world-class people at below fair market value (at least temporarily) and I'll show you a startup that has their head on straight. In the world of startup recruiting, you're playing a passion arbitrage game.

4. Beware the resource needs of executives from big firms. Though they may be great at turning a $20MM marketing budget into $2 billion, it doen't matter much if you don't have $20MM. They be a world-class player, but you may not have what they need to succeed.

Summary: Use your passion and instincts to help find the next Seth Godin, and then help them kick-butt.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, Jan 25, 2008


And because he is very very expensive :)

posted on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 7:32 AM by Jitesh

you're absolutely right.
great insight, Dharmesh

posted on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 7:57 AM by seth godin

Dharmesh, I have seen this exact problem time and time again in my startup consulting. These executives try to bring in the culture, spending habits, and mindset of a company that is much larger. All they do is frustrate rather than motivate, waisting much of a startup's precious budget on things that don't translate to true impact.
The most successful startups are ones that hire for where they want to be in 1-2 years, not 5-10 years. Often, these people are startup-minded and know how to take a startup further from where it is today.
Sometimes they may be able to grow and learn with the company, but often they reach their limit and go to the next startup that needs help.
Great post!

posted on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 12:58 PM by James Higginbotham

I am going to play devil's advocate. Let's say I do hire him for my startup.
It is a technology startup, so it is safe to assume the circumstances are similar...he started Squidoo and yoyodyne...so I would hire him based on his previous success.
As for number two, I know you can find passionate people who have been successful before. Some people can be motivated by money even when they already have a sizeable bank account. I think this part would be dependent on the idea as Seth probably doesn't get excited about everything. For the sake of argument, let's say he loves what we are doing and shows great passion during the interview.
Number 3 relates to value. You are assuming someone is overpaying when they offer 250k. If Seth has all the connections to people that my company needs to get in front of, a history of making good deals, and is a flat out rainmaker, I'll pay 250k. It would be worth it. If your startup is a social network for rock climbers in Estonia, then it would not be worth it.
Number four assumes you are hiring someone from a monolith (like Oracle) to a 3 person startup. Obviously, any good executive is going to be aware of the lack of resources for an early stage startup. I would fault the entrepreneur for hiring someone like this. There must be talk during the interview process for what Seth would require. Given his startup experience, I know he doesn't need a lot of money, but knows what to do with it once we get it.
In conclusing, I think startups can totally hire people of Seth Godin's calibre. You might search for a while, but there will be someone out there that will accept the terms you offer. The entrepreneur just has to find them.
Almost forgot, finding the next Seth Godin could be a tremendous gamble for the entrepreneur and an even more difficult task.
Thought provoking post...

posted on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:04 PM by Josh

Josh: I can't argue with anything your're saying:
1. Seth does indeed have a startup background (so his experience is relevant).
2. Assuming you could hire him he'd definitely be worth the $250k (I had just picked that number out of semi-thin air).
3. There are indeed people that are motivated by money even when they don't need to be.
But, I'm still going to content that it's really, really hard to get someone of Seth's caliber (in terms of an operating/management role at a startup). He's got his own ideas and his own startups which I'm sure he doesn't get to spend as much time on as he'd like. You might get someone like him as an advisor or board member, but probably not in an operating role (i.e. in the day-to-day activities of the company).
Regardless, good points.

posted on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:20 PM by

Excellent points! The next Seth Godin is waiting in the woodwork for an opportunity to shine. It's gonna be the hungry guy with big new ideas, but currently lacks the venue to put those ideas to good use...just wait.

posted on Monday, January 28, 2008 at 7:11 PM by Joe Reis

Now the next post should be, "How to Find the Next Seth Godin"
or for that matter, anyone with important position in the startup

posted on Thursday, February 07, 2008 at 10:22 PM by Petar Petrov

"Finding or Creating the Next Seth Godin" is a more important topic. Using the old model of traditional marketing trying to capture visibility and using the "who knows who" model is dated and almost useless. Look for a person who understands Online or Web2.0 Marketing or is willing to quickly learn and apply. If your current marketing "leader" is living in the 80's or 90's, find someone new. There are several great thought leaders on online marketing such as David Meerman Scott who can educate and invigorate a company and take them directly to buyers without the pain and anguish or using baskets of cash.

posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 4:48 PM by Jim

How to Find next Seth Godin?
in one of his books (maybe in more) it tells exactly how to find someone like that
It comes at a cost of "finding" though

posted on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 4:00 AM by no experience

Sometimes they may be able to grow and learn with the company, but often they reach their limit and go to the next startup that needs help.  
Great post!

posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 3:51 PM by sohbet

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