Writer: Umamah Syed, USC MSEI 2017
Editor: Chelsea LaFerla
“One thing that founders always underestimate is how hard it is to recruit.” – Sam Altman, Y Combinator President
Starting a business as a solo founder seems fun at first, but you quickly realize that an idea will only take you so far. To create a business, you must have a support system in place. For some, that comes in the form of mentors. For most, it requires a founding team.
Entrepreneurs are easily blinded by the euphoria that comes with idea generation. Filled with excitement, we often run to family and friends to ask for help. We feel the blood pumping quickly through our veins and our mind runs wild with all of the possibilities. We impulsively begin making founding decisions as we see the green-light overhead; everything inside says, “Go!” The stars have aligned. We want to build our team and “go for the gold.”
I want to help you see the real light; the white light that will guide you as you make strategic recruiting decisions. While it may seem rosy, don’t default to the easy hiring route.
Think about your circle of friends. How did you select them? More than likely, you were careful in your quest. You chose your friends because their thoughts and behaviors aligned with your own. You’ve adopted a mindset that guides the way you select relationships. The challenge is to move away from this instinctive mindset when founding a business and building a team. It will be one of the most important and challenging tasks you will complete.
The first step in doing this is to get out of your comfort zone. You may be wondering where to begin. Start small. Seek guidance from mentors, professors, parents, managers, etc. See if they can connect you with someone who has experience in the specific role that you’re looking to fill. Don’t try to fill every role at once. Make one hire before moving onto the other, and then repeat the cycle.
Once you’ve entered the “dating” stage with your new team members, you may find that they disagree with your vision or strategy now and then. Don’t give them the boot right away. One of the crucial roles of a team member is to provide valuable insight. You’re not recruiting “yes men;” you’re building a team of intellectual individuals. Yes, they may disagree with you at times, but often their arguments have a basis upon which they were founded.
Think about their reasoning. Why do they feel that way? What experience are they bringing to the table that would justify their reasoning? What do they envision being the “right way?” How do your views differ, and why? If you do end up parting ways with a team member, make sure you’ve thought through all of the possible scenarios ahead of time.
In my experience as a founder, one thing has served me well: asking the hard questions, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. Overall, possessing candor has served me well.
Ultimately, surround yourself with individuals who:
- Challenge your thinking with valuable insight
- Challenge your actions because of their expertise
- Have a shared passion for your business
If you can recruit hires that possess these three qualities, you’ve struck gold. That said, passion for the business can develop later in the relationship. It will just be easiest to find those who have passion for the startup from the start. Hire wisely.
In summary, be tactical in your recruiting efforts. Your job as a founder is to build a team that will be the support structure of your startup. They will run through the fires you set and bask in the sun beside you, all the same. They are your lifeline and support when your business takes a hit.
Don’t simply recruit people who will tell you what you want to hear. When you’re tempted to take the easy route and hire within your immediate circle, take a step back. Look beyond them and diligently search for the individuals that will aid you in moving your business forward successfully. It will take time, but it will be well worth the wait in the end. Don’t rush to make these important decisions and end up serving as the reason your business doesn’t reach new heights.
The strategies I’ve shared will by no means prevent failure. However, by making wise hires, you can avoid the failure that comes from making poor recruiting decisions.
So now you have a job to do. Think smart, not easy. Be uncomfortable (initially), and grow (ultimately). Challenge yourself and push yourself beyond your boundaries, I guarantee you will be better for it.