All the great leaders agree that it's critical to hire the best people.
"A-plus players like to work together, and they don't like it if you tolerate B-grade work." -- Steve Jobs.
"I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person." -- Mark Zuckerberg.
"If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants." -- David Ogilvy.
Startups and investors pay a lot of lip service to great people and 'world-class teams'. An alarming number of companies have more interns and low-cost offshore contractors than experienced employees. So why do so many founders ignore this sage advice?
I met my best hire through one of my angel investors. Russ was a senior programmer at a development agency that we hired to help us manage a difficult technical situation with offshore programmers. Russ and I quickly built a great working relationship and I extended his project to keep him onboard.
At first, I thought it would be bad form to poach the agency's best programmer-- especially when they took the job as a favor to my investor. Plus, I couldn't pay Russ as well as the agency. So three months later, when I finally asked Russ to join my team and he said 'yes', I was left with the following question.
Why didn't I ask sooner?
What stopped me asking Russ sooner was the belief that he'd probably say 'no'. Fear of rejection stopped me from even trying. And if you don't try, you're guaranteed to fail.
Here's a thought experiment. Think of your favorite tech company and ask: would their CTO leave to join your startup? Are you willing to ask anyway, even if the odds are against you?
If you're serious about building a truly great company, it's your responsibility to hire the best people from the start-- especially the ones that seem impossible on paper.
To be clear, I'm not advocating for better interviewing. I'm suggesting you get out there and find the best people in the world that can make your vision a reality. People that you never dreamt would say yes. If you have the courage to ask, here are a few tips going in.
1. Raise your standards
Once you lower the bar, it sends a clear message that 'anyone can get in'. When people join your company, do you want it to feel like getting into Stanford University or your local YMCA?
2. Pitch the mission
Great people want to work on great projects. Selling the dream to talent is just as critical as selling to investors. Treat it with the same care and respect.
3. Ask them what they're looking for
The first rule of sales is to listen. To influence great people, seek to understand what drives them first. What are their needs? And how can you address those needs?
4. Admit your weaknesses
Explaining weaknesses with confidence is key to the seductive process. If they aren't fiercely strong where you are mediocre, then you're destined to micro-manage them.
5. Explain your strengths
The best people are never satisfied and always want to learn more. What genuine learning opportunities and personal development can you offer them?
6. Make it easy to say 'yes'
A short consulting arrangement may sound like an expensive interview but it's a great ploy to get them emotionally involved. You can also test them out before making a full offer.
7. Make the package impossible to refuse
A+ players don't come cheap-- especially in a fiercely competitive market like tech. When it comes to people, quality always trumps quantity. If money is an issue, just hire fewer people.
8. Get your hustle on
Let the candidate that's hiring them is your top priority. The 'let's wait and see' approach comes off as weak (and clueless). Sometimes you can't take 'no' for an answer.
9. If all else fails, get feedback
Every failure is a learning opportunity. Ask for 20 minutes of their time to get specific feedback on why they said no. What needs do they have that you can't meet?
What if no one says yes?
It's really important you figure what is driving the best people away from your business -- and fix it fast. Don't keep telling yourself it's the money. If money is the only thing of value that you can offer, you have a poor company.
When I see a startup full of interns, I'm extra cautious about placing a bet. To coin David Ogilvy, I'm saving my chip stack for the companies of giants.