Beside Every Successful Entrepreneur are Great People

January 30, 2020

Thanks, Jack. Hire great people. Duh. Isn’t that kind of a no brainer you ask? Maybe, but not so fast. Hiring the right people, great people, might just be the most difficult task of all.

Just what exactly is a great person? How do you know that the person sitting across from you in an interview is a great person? You don’t. Sometimes you make the wrong call. Sometimes you make the right call. That’s one reason I say, “hire slow; fire fast”.

Vision and purpose kick things off. People get things going; they execute your vision

When I started Syncbak I was waiting out a non-compete agreement. Even though Syncbak doesn’t do anything my prior company did, like most employment agreements, mine included a non-poaching clause. So, that meant I had to wait to go get my team. That meant I had to hire brand new people I’d never met.

Being a somewhat known commodity in our industry made it easy for me to get applicants. That was the point I found myself in entirely unchartered waters. I’d just spent 13 years with the same extraordinary group of people. I was way out of hiring practice.

People think they want to be part of a hot new startup, but not everyone is cut out to be

Syncbak will celebrate our 11th anniversary on March 1, 2020. None of my first hires are still here. In fact, none of them lasted beyond two years. I made every mistake in the book. Fortunately, my second wave of hiring was spot on and that team is still here today. Eventually, I brought my entire team over from my last company and today, unless I told you, you’d never know they used to be two separate teams. Our team, for lack of a better way to describe them, is group of extremely talented visionaries humming on all cylinders.

For the rest of this post, let’s look at some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

Being employee number one doesn’t mean you will always report to the founder

I’ve experienced this as the founder and from the employee side of the table. As a kid, I was an early employee of a smoking hot startup with less than 20 employees. I reported to the founder and CEO and I did a really great job, the impact of which lasted for years and years. But, when the time came to get a more experienced person between me and the CEO, I was hurt. It hurt a lot. I thought I was his guy. Nope. 

So, when you hire employee number one, make sure they understand where they stand. Other than carrying the label of being hired first, it really doesn’t mean anything beyond that.

Think twice about hiring a pack of people ready to jump ship from their current company together

By the same token, think twice about hiring a pack of people available today that previously worked at the same company. Trust your gut. People don’t move in packs unless there are extenuating circumstances. Hire slow, fire fast, and never hire packs. They are traveling in a pack for a reason. That reason might be good and bring you fortune, or it might be bad, and bring you someone else’s nightmare.

Your focus should remain on hiring individuals. Don’t overlook the value of raw talent. Experience is nice, but what about that diamond in the rough? Find them. Empower them. Because you’re a startup, no one has ever done the job before, so why not hire that person with raw talent?

Resist the urge to hire too quickly

Never make an offer during the initial interview. Do reference checks. If the situation means you have no way of doing real reference checks, move on. The risk of making a mistake is too high. Don’t hire unless you can get qualified references. Don’t take the risk.

In one instance, I fired someone for pretty good reasons. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks later I saw the founder of a fledgling startup touting he’d hired one of our superstars. Well, let me tell you this, I don’t let superstars get away – ever. That founder made the mistake of letting my former employee provide their own reference. I was not surprised months later that it hadn’t worked out.

I guess it is like anything in life, take your time on your biggest decisions. You’ll make less mistakes that way and, if for some reason you lose out on a great candidate, how would you even know anyway? You wouldn’t.

Make it clear you have no free cereal

People are often held prisoner by their own expectations. You need to make sure yours and theirs are in alignment. Therefore, you need to hire slow. Take the time to make sure you are offering what they are expecting. If they think the most important part of being in a startup is free cereal, take a pass. You’re going to be focusing on growing a business, not putting an effing apron on and cooking your team breakfast. Ugh. But I digress…

Once you hire that great person, or get your team in place, your job gets even harder 

Focus on the people. Focus on the team. Ask yourself every night, “Am I doing what I need to do to make people want to come to work tomorrow?” It isn’t benefits like free pop or cereal or foosball (nice things), it is about the environment. It is about creating a place where people can make money and have fun and be a part of something special. If people are making money and having fun, the company likely is too. Funny how that works… 

Start with a vision, have purpose and hire great people.