Hiring and Business

This week Steve Newcomb and Ben Horowitz both wrote dynamite posts on hiring and business.

In Steve's post, he sets up the topic this way:

What happens when founders try to sleep at night is this: their mind spins uncontrollably between scenarios that result in a glorious success and scenarios that result in a burning death crash.  Most founders I know ride a fine line between seeming to be in total control and going nut balls.  

All I can say is welcome to the club – you're normal!  

Whenever people ask me how I make it through, I always say the same thing.  Sit down and write down the shit storms that you are worrying about and divide them into two list.  Those that are under your control and those that aren’t.  Then focus on the list that you can control.  If you stare at that list long enough you’ll realize a commonality.  That the solution to every single one of them begins with having a team that is rock solid, one that isn't afraid of challenges and one that believes in you as a founder.  If you do this one thing right, it will steady you and calm your mind enough to face and conquer any challenge.

Focus on things you can control is a lesson one can never hear too many times. Steve says the answer to all of a founder's worries is to have a rock solid team behind you. Very generalizable. In the post he goes on to offer a rich list of tips for how to recruit and retain a killer team. Read the whole thing.

Ben Horowitz's post is intriguingly titled: If You've Never Done the Job, How Do You Hire Somebody Good? CEOs often hire people to do jobs they've never done and never could do. You're hiring domain experts. But if you're not a domain expert yourself, how to evaluate the candidate? That's the set-up for an excellent analysis on hiring.

One of his early points is that you should figure out what strengths you need from a candidate and focus on that:

The more experience you have, the more you realize that there is something seriously wrong with every employee in your company (including you). Literally, nobody is perfect. As a result, it is imperative that you hire for strength rather than lack of weakness. Everybody has weaknesses; they are just easier to find in some people. Hiring for lack of weakness just means that you’ll optimize for pleasantness. Rather, you must figure out the strengths you require and find someone who is world class in those areas despite their weaknesses in other, less important domains.

Then he suggests coming up with a list of questions for different types of candidates that cut at the heart of that specific domain (sales force, operational management, etc).

He notes the usefulness of front door references:

For the final candidates, it’s critically important that the CEO conduct the reference checks herself. The references need to be checked against the same hiring criteria that you tested for during the interview process. Backdoor reference checks (checks from people who know the candidate, but were not referred by the candidate) can be an extremely useful way to get an unbiased view. However, do not discount the front door references. While they clearly have committed to giving a positive reference (or they wouldn’t be on the list), you are not looking for positive or negative with them. You are looking for fit with your criteria. Often, the front door references will know the candidate best and will be quite helpful in this respect.

3 comments on “Hiring and Business
  • One of the more shocking aspects of a start-up for a first-time entrepreneur is how hard it is to hire people. It seems like it should be an easy task at the beginning, but they quickly figure out it’s not easy.

    It’s quite an effort to just find somebody who you might consider worth hiring and even after all the efforts of determining the rightness of the candidate, it doesn’t mean the candidate wants to work for the start-up. It difficult to convince people to join a start-up.

    There’s was a time in Silicon Valley when quality candidates were willing to take a cance on a start-up because they knew if the start-up failed, they could easily nandquickly get another job. Bit times have changed, and quality candidates aren’t so willing to jump into a start-up.

  • One most stop doing a chain of half-logical steps that build up to a catastrophic doom. Explained in this post. (http://artofmanliness.com/2010/04/01/building-your-resilinecy-part-vi-quit-catastrophizing/)

    Excellent tool for defeating anxiety, the type that is especially prominent in students and start-ups and people about to lose their jobs (lots of uncertainty, not a lot of experince, except for the job one)

    PS. of course the actual blog has better grammer (hammer!) then this post does.

  • A couple of reactions:

    First, if I were to see that the list of issues that is ostensibly *under* my control actually depends on the team, this is extremely disheartening – I would then have to move those items to the other list!

    Second, Steve’s blog post is great, but what if you’ve already messed it up? What if you’ve hired a team that would be very good for the second wave but have no one that fits his description of the first wave / cult ethos?

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