Hiring for your startup can be an exhilarating and spooky thing. You have so many needs, it is hard to know where to prioritize, especially when money and resources are precious and limited

Whether it is startups, medium or large companies, I've found that while most focus on evaluating the skill and will of potential hires, far too many people overlook passion for their category when hiring. Specifically, startups should be looking to hire the best customers of the category--their superconsumers. Superconsumers are folks who buy a lot (highly profitable) and care a lot (highly passionate) about the category, not just a specific brand. They are the most profitable, articulate and intelligent consumers who tend to be the 10 percent of consumers who drive 30 to 70 percent of category sales and 100 percent of category insights!

I actually devote the last chapter of my book on Superconsumers to the idea that the best way to get value out of your superconsumers is to hire them and unleash them in your organization. Hiring category superconsumers gives you talent with more creativity for innovation, more energy for greater productivity and finally more empathy for customer service, all for the same salary. 

Passion shows creativity, future potential and trajectory.

In 1995, John Sylvan, one of the co-founders of Keurig, ended up in the emergency room after experiencing chest and head throbbing. The doctors concluded he wasn't having a heart attack after quizzing him and finding that he drank around 30 to 40 cups of coffee per day.

Keurig went on to be come a multi-billion dollar business not entirely, but in some part of Sylvan's fanatical commitment to the category. Of course, you don't want to be such a superconsumer to the point where your health is at risk, but the point is if you are a coffee startup, ask how many cups of coffee your potential hires drink. 

Assess their passion for the category along side their technical experience. Most people focus on pedigree and track record, but both of these are backward looking whereas passion for the category is future oriented and might say more about potential and trajectory. 

Superconsumers give more energy and for more productivity.

Imagine walking into a pet food company to interview for a finance job. As you are preparing to talk about your finance expertise, your interviewer walks in with a dog. The question is, does the impression you make on the dog count too? For Royal Canin, a leader in therapeutic and high end science-based food for dogs and cats, it absolutely does.

Kamie Eckert, Royal Canin's U.S. President, says, "The greater your love for pets, the higher the likelihood you fit into the culture. You bring more energy and motivation to your job. It's absolutely a factor we look at when hiring."

This approach seems obvious for more customer facing employees like marketing and sales. But it turns out that some of the biggest impact is surprisingly in other functional areas like finance. Finance associates at Royal Canin bring the most dogs into the office, says Eckert. 

"I find the passion makes an even bigger difference in non-customer facing jobs, like finance. Finance is a role that more easily translates from company to company regardless of the category. As a result, not many finance professionals ever get asked about their personal passion for the category. When I ask potential finance hires about pets, the ones that light up with unexpected levels of energy are a key factor of what I look for. It's important for finance and similar functions to feel part of the party too."

And it's contributing to results. In 2016, Royal Canin moved up from #44 on the best small businesses to work at in St. Louis to number eleven on the mid-sized business list, growing both in its reputation as a great place to work and its overall business as well. What startup wouldn't want to be a great place to work with growth too?

Superconsumers give empathy for better customer insights.

Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix, described how during the transition from DVDs to streaming she noticed something interesting. In discussions, she realized that the DVDs that employees proudly and publicly displayed on their desks as their favorite movies were not always the same content that they streamed in private.

Netflix was full of media superconsumers, who collectively realized that streaming enabled them to indulge in 'junk food' TV and movies content that were guilty pleasures that you didn't want to admit to at first, until you realized that everyone else was doing it too.

This realization enabled them to change the way they viewed their media collection, that B-movies and junk food TV was okay to stream without judgment. This was critical in their early years before they created their own content. 

Most startups go through a winding road until they perfect their products, services and offers. Hiring your superconsumers can short cut that process via greater empathy and cause you not to overlook an innovation opportunity based on new customer insights. 

Published on: Dec 4, 2017