Sunday, August 21, 2005


I was planning on posting a follow up to my article at AlwaysOn here, but since Tom Evslin posted a response at his blog I decided to continue the conversation from the topics he brought up. Oh, if you're an entrepreneur or thinking about starting something, Tom's blog is a must read.

I didn't get a chance to touch upon the base assumption of why you should or at least strongly consider starting a company with other people. Solo is doable, but not advised especially as the complexity of the technology, market, and product you are building increases. A few years ago, Professor Ed Roberts, from MIT’s Sloan School, conducted a study and found that the probability of success dramatically increased with team size up to four or five entrepreneurs. One underlying reason was that teams of people with complementary skill sets perform far better than they would as individuals.

Apple's Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak; Microsoft's Bill Gates had Paul Allen; Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang had David Filo; Google's Sergey Brin had Larry Page; Intel had Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove; Sun had Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Bill Joy, and Andy Bechtolsheim.

At GoingOn, I would describe part of my role on the team as a naysayer. Tony just calls me "Mr. No" a lot. I have to ask the questions that swirl in my mind, "How are we going to achieve that? What if our assumptions are wrong about our targeted market and they behave like this instead of that? What if a bottleneck is created here due to this?"

Since Tony and Marc are the primary visionaries with our platform, I guess someone has to play the other side. It's funny because during my first two startups, which had the same three founders for both, I played a similar counter-balance to my friend, Jimmy. He was the optimistic, storm-up-the-hill person, and I was always the skeptical one that tried to ignore the hype and noise of deals or people we met.

Anyway, back to Tom's points. Tom's first minor disagreement is one I can agree with. I just used an adage many people state and Tom's is another:

A C-grade hire is a negative – especially for a startup. Better to leave the position unfilled. No matter what you multiply a negative by, you still get a negative.

This is true especially in the critical positions and early roles within a new company. So I agree with Tom to just avoid the C-grade hires. As the company grows, some tend to relax their hiring standards, but this is a decision left for the company executives. I warn against becoming lax and recommend not to lower your standards since you should maintain the level of excellence you established since your company's founding to keep the company DNA and culture. A great example of this is Google. I believe up until recently Sergey and Larry still approved every single hire at the company, and beforehand each person would have to go through a series of interviews that would make many merry-go-round operators dizzy.

On Tom's second disagreement:

Bernard says to hire team players. You need to hire people you can work with but NOT necessarily team players. Team players won’t tell you when you’re dead wrong; they won’t be the only dissenting voice even when they’re right and everybody else is wrong. Startups need a team but I think a CEO can mold a team, has to mold a team, from very strong individuals.

I believe this was a matter of semantics. I believe team players are people who put the success of the company above their personal goals and desires. So I believe under this definition these people will "tell you when you’re dead wrong." Along this line, I would add to never hire "yes" people in key positions. You don't want to hire people that will always seek agreement or are afraid to place a stake in the ground on an idea or issue affecting the company. These people will never contribute to the betterment of the company or conversations that lead to decisions.

You also want people that don't take themselves or the discusions too seriously. This is related to second point in my article, "Check egos at the door." In the startup environment, you will get into heated discussions, so just remember that everyone is seeking the same goal, which is to find the best solution for the benefit of the company. I remember a dozen times when Jimmy, Peter, and I would get into heated debates to the point of yelling at the top of our lungs, but in the end we wouldn't take these situations personally and joke about it an hour later. Many times these intense sessions would quickly dissipate in the face of reason and logic.

"Oh, that sounds right... ok, you're right. I was off in my calculation."

"Dude, I'm so annoyed, but you're right. Crap. That would be better for us."

Anyway, I agree with Tom's overall theme, "Go for The Moon When Hiring for a Startup," (love the pun) and always hired the best possible people you can find.

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