Accidental Entrepreneur: Are you suited for a Startup career? 10 things to look for!
Welcome to my 26th weekly article as this week is called “Are you suited for a Startup career? 10 things to look for!”
The difference between established companies and startups is like night and day. As someone who may be interested in working at a startup it’s important to have a long term perspective, be a customer advocate and the ability to thrive with constant change.
In this article I go over 10 key traits of employees who will thrive and be succesful at startups.
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My goal is to be able empower folks to go after their goals and reach their full potential!
“வினைக்குரிமை நாடிய பின்றை அவனை
அதற்குரிய னாகச் செயல்”. — திருக்குறள் (518)
“Having considered what work a man is fit for,
let (the king/leader) employ him in that work”. — Thirukkural (518)
Working at a startup vs well established companies is a night and day difference. I have seen many people joining startups for the wrong reason without analyzing the opportunity and potential. Same time the founders of the companies also need to be cognizant of the company needs and what the specific roles are to hire the right people.
During my adventure at both of my startups and hiring 300–400 employees, I was lucky enough to hire many good candidates while hiring few people who shouldn’t have been hired. Here is 10 characteristics I look for when I hire people for startups:
- “IT” Person: This “IT” doesn’t stand for Information Technology. Rather it stands for a person who can wear multiple hats and contribute to the company in many ways. This term was described in an article in the Forbes or Fortune magazine that the difference between successful startups and failed ones is that successful companies hire versatile people who can contribute multiple ways. First and foremost hire people who are multi-talented.
- Diverse Experience: I had written a full article on this topic where I detailed having people with diverse experience and background in the team. Having many viewpoints and opinions help navigate through the challenges effectively. One reason for this is that when there are people with very diverse experiences, there is a chance that one or few others would have encountered similar situations and solved complex issues.This helps avoid making mistakes by learning from them without repeating them.
- Characters of employees: Startup environment is a very tight knit community of people driving for the same goal with limited resources and times. For the people to gel quickly and drive towards the same goal, it is important that everyone understand the company’s larger goal. Need to be careful around the people who are very short term minded and not willing to invest in the big picture. For example, if someone is negotiating a salary which is out of the range and willing to take less equity. Startups are built on a promise of financial success when they go public or get acquired and equity gets converted to cash. Be careful around the people who ask for very high salaries!
- Need product builders: It could be a service business or building a solid product, it is important to hire people who have experience building end to end products. Understanding the full product life cycle (PLC) and being able to build quality products which can stand customer scrutiny is very important. Most of the time, startups don’t get a second chance to fix fundamental issues.
- Industry experience vs Malleable person: If I were to select a person with specific industry experience vs. a person with capability to adjust and learn new areas, I always select the second person who is malleable. Startups go through many changes and directions, and it is important to have people who can adjust through all these changes.
- Change is the only constant: During a company’s early stage, changes to the product and application of technology may be needed as the product/market fit gets solidified. Need to hire people who can withstand the changes and not get easily frustrated.I remember one of my early hires telling me that he got so exhausted with all the changes during our early architecture discussion and wasn’t sure how we could maintain the necessary momentum.
- Customer Centric Thinking: Big companies have flexibility to invest and work on technologies which may not go to market. As for startups, the customer is the king. If we were to build products without customers in mind and don’t make customers happy, basically we are wasting time as well as finite resources. Therefore, hiring people who have prior experience building and deploying products in the market is key.
- Everyone is important but no one is irreplaceable: This is a very important aspect of hiring and managing very smart people. Smart people don’t mean that they are the right fit for a startup. Some of these people can become cancer, and impact the productivity of the entire team. At a very young age, during my first startup, I had to fire a few people who were misfits and move forward. Being decisive early is very key for success.
- Hire for future problems: This is a unique approach in my point of view. Founders and executive managers need to understand the broader company vision and hire the right people for future problems. First identify the current trends from a market & technology perspective to get a better understanding of what is needed to help the company scale.Then focus on hiring for people who can help with current problems and have the knowledge and capability to contribute to help the company expand into different product lines with the aim to increase market share.
- Perfectionist vs. Pragmatic person: Finally, in my experience, every product has some shortcomings and limitations. I have seen some people get frustrated by not being able to build perfect products. I preach to my employees to build a product which is good enough to satisfy the customer’s minimal requirements first. Lately it is called MVP, Minimum Viable Product. Build something quickly and get into customers’ hands and iterate with feedback. I would hire a pragmatic person anytime over perfectionism!
These are my top ten list of characteristics I look for when I hire people. There are situations that fresh graduates and junior employees may not have experiences to fill in some of these characteristics. Hiring people with the right attitude and coachable mindset helps overcome these deficits. Thanks to those key employees who trusted us and joined us on the journey to build two companies worth a combined enterprise value of more than 1.3 Billion dollars. As for the people looking to join startups, you can do the reverse check to see whether the team is built with the above characteristics in mind. If not, stay away from them as this could be the tell tell sign of a not so successful startup, there are so many of them…..