The most important ingredient to entrepreneurial success is talented employees.
Even with lots of funding, an average team will only produce average results. The best business plan in the world can't execute itself. It needs a talented team of motivated people with the right skills to get the job done. Considering how important finding talent is to entrepreneurial success, it amazes me the backward approach many leaders take to recruit talent.
All too often, leaders recruit by explaining what their plan is, and by talking about what they want to do. After being recruited that way myself one time, I felt like saying, "So let me get this straight. You want me to work 100 hours a week for the next five years so you can buy a new boat?" (The bad news is I think he would have said, "Yes".)
When I was building my first start-up, CTI, which American Express later acquired, I grew my team by asking each potential new employee to begin by telling me his goals. I asked recruits what they wanted to achieve with their lives. I asked them to tell me their long term hopes and dreams. And then I mapped out a plan to show how working for my company could get them there. We became partners in achieving their objectives, not just mine. Have you ever drawn a roadmap of how an employee can achieve his life's goals by working for you? It's not too late to start.
It's funny how some CEOs and business owners think everyone at the company works for them. If you really want to succeed, you'll realize it's exactly the opposite.
One day early in Priceline's launch, I was walking past one of our "war rooms," where project teams gather when deadlines loom, and I asked my staffers if they needed anything. Our newest engineer, a 20-year old internet developer, said, "Yes I do. Could you go pick up my dry cleaning?"
Without hesitation, I asked where the ticket was, and off I went.
I know CEOs who would never think to go pick up some 20-year-old programmer's dry cleaning. That's their mistake. That talented developer was busy creating the product that would make my company successful. A leader's real job is to build an environment where the most talented people in the industry wants to work, and then do whatever you can to clear the path for their achievement. You win when they do.
While you're at it, quit being cheap. The age-old game of trying to hire an employee for the lowest salary you can get is not a longterm strategy. I once tried to hire an operations analyst who was making $72,000 a year at his current job. When he came to my office, I asked him to pick up a blank sheet of paper on the end of my desk, and write down the salary he wanted to accept my job offer.
He wrote down $80,000. Then I told him to turn the sheet over and read what I wrote before he came in. It said $85,000. "But I only asked for $80,000," he said. "I understand," I replied, "but I'm offering you what I think you're worth, not what you're asking for."
He took the job for $85,000. My friends thought I wasted $5,000. Boy were they wrong. Not only did that new employee bring in all his friends and save me thousands in recruiting costs, but I can't tell you how many times I had to send him home at night when he was working late to prove to me that I had made a good decision. My investment was repaid many times over.
You can't win without the right talent. Focus on their needs, not yours, and they will guide you to triumph.