Startup Hiring: An Entrepreneur Disagrees With Entrepreneur Magazine

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Startup Hiring: An Entrepreneur Disagrees With Entrepreneur Magazine


I recently came across an article in Entrepreneur magazine that talks about startup hiring mistakes.  I don't know Brad Sugars (the author), but he's a columnist at Entrepreneur magazine and has written 14 books.  Though I'm impressed by the fact that he's a published author, I disagree with several points from the article. 

I also was a bit put-off by the statement "the good thing is that there are some hard and fast rules startups should follow".  I may not know a lot about startups, but one thing I do know is that there are very few "hard and fast" rules.  And, those rules that are hard and fast are rarely interesting enough to talk about.

So, here are my tips for startup hiring startups.  In some instances, these conflict directly with the Entrepreneur article -- in others, they're just different.

1.  Don't Hire Based Solely On Intelligence/Brilliance:  You interview the candidate and she has a PhD from MIT and is off-the-charts smart.  That's great.  Intelligence is an important factor in recruiting for most startups.  But, hiring just on intelligence is usually a mistake.  You need at least two more things:  A passion for getting things done and cohesion with your culture.  (That's a fancy way of saying that they agree with what you stand for and "fit in").

2.  It's Ok To Hire The Inexperienced:  If you find super-smart people that fit the culture and are able to get things done they may be a great recruit -- even if they lack experience.  At my startup HubSpot, we call this hiring people that "haven't seen the movie before" (this is our way of saying:  They don't have experience in the specific role/function).  We've had great success with this. 

3.  It's ok to hire for an undefined role:  In an ideal world, you have a nice clear job description and a role in mind for the person you're trying to hire.  And, your network is so strong and your luck so good that precisely the perfect candidates start dropping into your lap just as you need them.  Unfortunately, most startups are not so lucky.  Sometimes you get the wrong people for the right role (the one you're recruiting for).  Other times, you get the absolute "right" people, but just have no current openings.  Sometimes, it's ok to hire these "superstars" even though they may not fit the job description you are hiring for.

4.  It's Ok To Recruit For The Job You Hate:  You might be good at a lot of things (developing code, designing things, selling, accounting, etc.).  But chances are, you may dislike some of these activities even though you could be good at them.  The good news is that there are smart people out there who love the very stuff you hate.  There's nothing wrong with recruiting people for stuff you're either bad at or just plain don't like to do.

If you're interested in more tips on startup hiring, I kind of like some of my points in "5 Quick Pointers On Startup Hiring".

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Jul 14, 2008


I'd agree with the above, particularly number 2. We should remember that aptitude is not how good you get, it's how quick you get good.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 3:50 AM by Tim Haughton

Actually, Dharmesh, I disagree with your point #4 above and agree with Brad's take on this (his point #7). Startup founders often tend to forget that starting a business is not (at) all about having fun, and that they should go for what is the best for the company, not themselves. 
In some cases you might have a point, though: e.g. if the founder is equally good at running finances (which he dislikes) and programming (which he likes), he should definitely hire a finances manages or CFO. However, if the company is sorely lacking in another area that the founder is not good at (e.g. sales, like in the Brad's example), this is the position which should be filled first; only when this hole is fixed one should go looking how to relieve themselves.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 7:48 AM by Berislav Lopac

This is one of my big topics. I spend a lot of time in my companies thinking about hiring.  
For #3 (undefined role), I think this is ok as long as it fits the need of the business. I don't agree with creating roles to fit people. Anyone who comes in must fit a clear, immediate and important need of the business. 
Here's my hiring checklist: 

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 8:55 AM by Mark macLeod

I actually think both you and Brad make excellent points; you sort of see the same coin from different sides. Maybe I'm off on this but it seems like Brad's advice is more applicable to (or more informed by) a traditional-hierarchy, larger-size business, whereas yours is more for mid-size, innovative "flat-hierarchy" companies (like google, etc). For example, a year ago I would have disagreed heavily with your #3, and for a larger company with multiple and organized departments it makes little sense. But, for amorphous start-ups who aren't sure what they need it's the only way to hire. It can be costly, though, to hire creatively. Luckily we've gotten a stream of highly competent candidates from recruiting market websites like Dayak, where fees are also lower than standard. Honestly I think that might be a bigger problem facing startups today -- it's not that they don't know *how* to hire, they don't know *who* to hire. Even the super-smart kids who haven't seen the movie yet are getting harder to find.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 11:31 AM by Collins A.

Hey A Collins.. No wonder you can't find anyone to hire.. "Even the super-smart KIDs" Sounds like a little age related bias going on here. I have worked for 2 startups but now that I am over 50 everyone thinks "No Way".. It's sad because where are you going to find someone who has designed, supported, tuned and done everything else with SQL Server for 10+ years.. I have been on server interviews and the age related bias just is tossed out there.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 11:45 AM by JohnC

I like your comments. Any advice for someone looking for entry into a start up company? I'm an experienced (and versatile) marketer with a passion for new product/business development and have wanted to be in a start up for awhile now. I'm in Mpls. which has a good med. tech/software business community. I typically would be in the "have seen the movie" category in terms of industry experience. Any suggestions for making connections with start ups and how to sell myself would be appreciated...thanks.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 12:03 PM by brad Stageberg

JohnC, I apologize if it came off that way -- the "kids" remark was meant to be more jokey, mirroring Dharmesh's "haven't seen the movie" lingo which is obviously meant to point at a lack of relevant experience. This attribute will always be more present in the young. That having been said, I have worked closely with several hires under the age of 25 and found them to be in many cases more competent than their superiors. But individuals of this caliber are now hard to find at ANY age. I have the theory that our society is currently encouraging the forms of intelligence that are least useful in any practical capacity, but I'll spare us the curmudgeonly ranting. Suffice it to say, perhaps my earlier comment was not parsed accurately, and excuse it.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 12:05 PM by Collins A. clarify. I'm in the "Have NOT see the movie" category. sorry for the confusion.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 12:06 PM by brad Stageberg

Brad: If you're looking to join a startup, I'd start finding local area startup folks and reaching out to them via their blogs and other online sources. Start building relationships. 
Since you're in marketing, you could join the Pro Marketers Group on LinkedIn: 
Getting into the group allows you to do a search for other marketing professionals in your area that you might want to connect to. 
I'd also suggest starting a blog yourself.

posted on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 12:10 PM by Dharmesh Shah

Brad's article seems like he is talking about a different kind of startup than what we think of. Hiring someone just because you know them. and Hiring someone to "help them out. feel like cliche rather than serious advice for companies seeking VC or angel funding. 
Your Point 3. is the one that resonates with me. Job descriptions and resumes are inadequate means of matching people to companies. Job descriptions are dead, in the sense that they only reflect a perception of a need at a point in time. Many times the need changes as your team grows or as you speak with more people. So undefined roles are a more realistic approach which will allow you to hire the "best available athlete"

posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 9:41 PM by tom summit

I agree with your points completely; however, I would like to add that once you hire, it is critical that you have the appropriate environment to allow the employee to thrive.  
I also like the idea of bringing on someone on a contract basis for a very short period of time as a matter of practice. You might delay them finding their ultimate home but you both get the benefit of trying before buying. If you do so, try setting up a very short time frame - like six weeks and give them something that might stretch them somewhat in that very short time frame. In some cases, this might not be practical since there is a bit of company overhead that must be assumed; however, in the long run, I believe it is an attractive model that allows both the company and the potential employee to see if it is the right fit. The great part for the employee is that they don't have to include it on their resume. 
When hiring, I always wanted to hear "Why not give me a shot for a short period of time to try and see if it works?" but most candidates didn't have the gumption or the desire to do that.  

posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 8:56 AM by John Stack

hey i love the logo for on startups, just wanted to give you a thumbs up.

posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 10:57 AM by zaggededge

+1 for the logo design - although it's a lousy export of the original I suspect. Colours look fubar.

posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 3:01 PM by Tim Haughton

#1 Agree. I remember a really smart guy that I once worked with. At a different company his CV came in and myself and a colleague were both asked about him. Nice guy, smart guy, seriously numerate background. Perfect. We both recommended not to hire. The reason - the guy was depressed and to cover his unhappiness would laugh at all and everything and laugh so loud it would hurt you if you were within 10 feet. I'm not kidding! He was physically painful to be around. He'd be a disasterous hire and most likely lead to other staff leaving. Some people, no matter how brilliant, are just not worth hiring, at any price. 
#4 Agreed. Hiring for the jobs you don't like makes sense as long as the jobs you do like are the jobs you are most effective at. 

posted on Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 12:29 PM by Stephen Kellett

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