I was having a beer with my good friend Clint Smith, co-founder and CEO of Emma, the other day and we were discussing team dynamics and what really makes a team work. Clint is one of the best team builders that I know. I was proud to be part of the team that he and Will Weaver assembled at Emma, and I have to attribute much of who I am today to the time I spent working alongside them. However this conversation over beers was not just him mentoring me. This time we were comparing notes. Discussing areas where we, as leaders, could improve in building our teams for the benefit of those committed souls on board. And at one point, I shared with him what I loved most about Emma and what I seek most in the people that I work with now. I said:
Nothing was better than the times early on when we faced really big problems that could only be solved at the product level, and Will would come to me with the problem and a call to action to solve it and I’d say to him “No worries man, I got this.” And then, I’d survey the problem, design a solution, and implement it.
After I said that, Clint smiled, paused, and said… “You need to share that with your team.”
Of course, I’m hard headed, and instead of sharing it with just my team, I’m sharing it with anyone who happens to come across this post. But here is the clincher… Emma didn’t hire me from day one. I was a contractor for a couple of months and I had to earn the right to say that and have Will confidently smile and get back to doing the incredibly important work that he was doing for Emma. They had data on me. They knew that if I said that, not only did I mean it, but they could count on it to be so.
Today, I play both an important role in a startup, and also advise several startups, and I am very familiar with the desire to hire, and the pride that comes with rattling off a headcount of fulltimers. But as we grow in our understanding of Lean Startups, being data driven becomes the only way to trust any instinct you have for the long term, hiring included.
We’ve all heard “hire slow, fire fast”, but I think that is too general an anecdote, and potentially misleading to those who are literal thinkers. In both hiring and firing, you need data points to make the call. And this post isn’t about firing anyway, it’s about finding A Players.
What we, startup leaders, must do is resist the urge of irrational behavior being exhibited by our larger counterparts with cash to sling and fear to repel. For us, we must become comfortable working with ‘pain’ that having less resources and more ambition brings. That is the natural state of a startup, and a great way to evaluate your potential future teammate is to make that pain part of your exclusive club, and see if it’s something they really want bad enough. In other words, “try before you buy”. Have them contract, or even intern for a period of time as mutual evaluation for a good fit. You don’t want to find out when it’s critical if they are going to bail because it hurts too bad. Ask yourself:
- Do they want it bad enough that they will deliver critical results prior to having all the spoils of war like undervalued equity.
- Do they want it bad enough to treat your baby like it’s theirs?
- Do they want it bad enough to avoid being a subversive force in your business?
If so, and your data says it’s so, then potentially, you have an A Player. You’ll learn for sure on the battlefield, but at least you didn’t trust your gut to your company’s grave.