Hiring for a Startup – Part 2

hiring for startupThere are some misconceptions I am hearing quiet often: people working for startups are very specialized while corporate guys are broad. This is not true. Depending where you work in a corporation you might be niched down in your position just doing this one job, or you might matrix with lots of other department and overview it all. Both can be true for titled leadership positions as well as individual contributors.

Likewise, you find this guy who knows best (and mostly that is all what he knows) designing, for instance, xUI in the startup universe. But in reality you hope that if you hire a guy for xUI, you can also plug him in for a bunch of other stuff, which will come up in the future.

Of course there are lots of corporate people who never would want to work for a startup because they get better compensated, have safer jobs, and more perks. But there are the guys who are also makers and are looking for the thrill.

I am suggesting you take another approach instead of just hiring the guy who makes the rounds within the startup community:

First you need to be clear about the immediate tasks, which you need to solve. Put names and skills to those tasks, as well as how long they would take. Then decide whether those tasks will become strategic core competencies where you are developing your IP and proprietary differentiator or whether they are more peripheral.  Also decide whether you need immediate results or whether your organization is learning while growing, for instance because you are developing something entirely novel.

Your two choices are hiring a consultant or hiring an employee. First, lets define a consultant. A consultant is not necessarily just a contractor and never will do staff mitigation, a skilled form of tempting. A consultant is somebody who is a subject matter expert into something very specific that person has specialized in for many years.

Those people work either for vendors, or usually small specialized consulting firms. They have a clear portfolio of past projects. Hiring a guy like that might be expensive. But you will get immediate results in the shortest time possible. This is like hiring a law firm to work on a patent for instance. Of course, if that consultant is working on proprietary technology, you might be losing that knowledge at the end of the engagement – or you need to transition it to other team members, which work closely together with that consultant. A consultant can be a kickstarter and takes a lot of risk out of a task.

If a consultant is not a good fit, look for somebody who is well-rounded and has an entrepreneurial can-do problem solving fix-it attitude. If that person is not an exact fit for your requirement, estimate whether that person can come up to speed within a matter of a quarter or less, or maybe grow together with the team. Keep in mind, that you want a doer, somebody who has the overview above her task, somebody who can pivot and does not get too comfortable and somebody who can take risk and initiative. The last thing I like calling an intrapreneur, somebody who works like an entrepreneur within an organization.

Keep in mind that a smart person can always learn a new skill, but somebody who needs to be told what to do and be trained, can usually not be converted into a maker and shaker. Likewise, an ethically challenged person just looking out for himself might not all the sudden turn around become your most trusted friend.

But foremost important for any startup is a team player. Forget anybody with an attitude, a high ego, status thinking, or arrogance. You spot that Rolex “time piece”, better show them the door – just wasting your time. Those are unfortunately traits you find more often from candidates with big-corporate history. But overlook annoying traits like individualism or eccentrics. Those “difficult” guys are typical the people who feel very comfortable in a chaotic startup environment and get things moving. You have to find out what makes the person tick and what motivates him or her.

Finally, decide whether you need somebody who understands how to grow a business and execute on scale, or somebody who solves a back office problem. If you need the guy who understands how to pull it of, you will most likely need somebody with big-business history. Do not focus on titles here. Focus instead of track record and specifically the deliverables and contribution in any specific project that person was involved and ask them about the mechanics of the project and issue they had to solve and how and why they did it that way.

And the best way finding this out is by accessing a network of insiders, by researching on LinkedIn, and by looking at publications, including blogs. You want to find the people whose work impressed you and relays to you. But you do not want the poster boy named in a press release, but the guys who actually did the job. That will take some research time and some hard questioning during the interview.

If all is well, you just have to convince the candidate to come on board. Remember, good talent usually has choices. But a strong team, an exciting idea, freedom to execute – and some stake, might be good motivators. (SB)

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