Recruiting – the founder’s number one priority

teamWatching an old interview with Steve Jobs where he talked about how recruiting for the Mac team was his number one priority and The New York Times article How to Build a Successful Team by Adam Bryant got me thinking about teams.  A number of my mentees have problems building their teams. In fact one founder told me she had sent out a bulk email to try to find another team member and was disappointed by the lack of response. I highly recommend Adam Bryant’s article – it’s long but well worth reading if you are going to build a team. Here’s a few of my own comments:

  • A players hire A players, B players hire C players. As a founder you must hire staff who are better at something than you are – otherwise why hire them? You need to put away your ego and forget about being the smartest person in the room. You’ll be the most successful person in the room if you hire the right people.
  • Hiring is easy, it’s firing that’s hard. Once a startup gets a series A round and can pay salaries that are market rate or close to it founders often go into a flurry of hiring. Resist that temptation. Hiring needs to be driven by your organizational design and the stage your company is at. There’s also a temptation to be opportunistic, to want to hire that intern who did such a great job over the summer – but does that hire make sense for the company?
  • Wait until it hurts. The best signal you need to hire is when your team can’t endure the pain of an unfilled position any longer. Startups need to stretch the dollar, no matter how many dollars they have in the bank, so wait until you really, really need it to fill that position.
  • For investors it’s all about the team. Investors generally decide on making an investment based on three factors: team, market opportunity, and your technology solution. But for most team trumps all and the CEO trumps the team. So even if you can’t afford to hire a full team before raising capital you should have an org design and candidates to fill open positions. In fact with one of my companies I had two high powered hires ready to join the company once we got funding and could pay them startup rate salaries. Both of them even assented to being interviewed by one of our investors before we closed the round. Once we secured the round we were able to bring these two key hires on very quickly.
  • Use your network. As a founder you should be able to fill out most of your team through your personal connections. These hires are lower risk, since you have experience with them and they are more likely to join the company because they know and respect you.
  • Always be on the lookout for talent. See my post on talent tracking.
  • As a founder you need to interview every hire. I don’t know if there is a formal cut off number where you can step back from the hiring process, but as a founder you need to be involved as long as possible, then a bit longer. Totally delegating hiring can lead to diluting the company culture amongst other negative outcomes.
  • Involve key staff in recruiting and hiring. Candidates should interview with the entire executive team plus any key individual contributors. Recruiting and hiring has to be a top priority for everyone in a growth company, not just the founder/CEO.
  • Watch out for bozos! Early in my career I made the mistake of hiring a senior executive from a large and very successful consumer electronics company. He turned out to be a bozo, in Steve Jobs’ lingo. Another term for people who are good at selling themselves and have survived years in a large corporation is “empty suits.” Or as one of my colleagues said of a candidate he interviewed,”He was all hat and no cattle!”
  • Involve your board and investors for key hires.  Your investors should be smart, experienced money. Find out which ones are great interviewers and enlist them for CXX interviewing.
  • Remember you are selling as well as buying. Recruiting is a two-way street, as founder you need to sell the opportunity to candidates just as hard as you are evaluating their fit with your company. Any great hire should have lots of other opportunities. You need to understand their background and expectations to help  communicate why they should take your offer, rather than staying put or joining another startup.
  • Structure your interviews. Make sure you are asking the same questions of all candidates and so is your staff so when you compare notes you are comparing apples to apples, not apples to baseballs.

There’s plenty of advice out there in books and on the web. Adam Bryant’s article is a great place to start but you can never stop learning best practices in recruiting, hiring, and retaining great talent.



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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