Hiring is Overrated and Underrated

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The ways that it is overrated:
Looking for ‘rockstars’ and ‘unicorns’ for commodity tasks – tasks where the skill set is fungible and common in the market. Just hire someone.

Trying to find the A+ engineer, who will build at breakneck speed with perfectly elegant clean code, and make your entire engineering team operate better.

MBA’s (often) get the job done. Don’t listen to the Silicon Valley mentality hating against them. One thought on that point, though: MBA’s will negotiate hard. If you’re trying to spend slowly, there are other types of business hustlers who will take underdog salaries.

The ways that it is underrated:
Filing monopoly roles – the type of role where the set of tasks necessary for that role aren’t all that matters, but it needs to be someone who utterly shines, as well. Someone who is co-founder level good. Not every role is like that, but knowing which ones are is critical to the early days of your business.

– Even if you have a great network, the vast majority of the people worth recruiting are already doing something they love.

– When you realize you want to hire for a role, the work probably needed to get done yesterday, and it will take you a month, no matter what role you’re filing.

– Finding a good third-party recruiter, whether hiring for a venture analyst or a front-end developer, is hard. They need to understand your culture, but more importantly – most recruiters play the numbers game and really suck.

– Great engineering managers are not necessarily good developers. And vice versa.

Start early, always be thinking about hiring when meeting new people, and determine what is monopoly employee versus a commodity employee. Peter Thiel introduces an interesting concept in his Stanford class from a few years back. On his view, “Some of your people will have very unique skills. Others will be more commodity employees with fungible skills.” This I enthusiastically agree with. But I’ll add that some types of work require more care, diligence, and unicorns for some companies than others. For an enterprise software startup trying to sell into schools and hospitals, a ‘monopoly’ role would be that of the salesperson, because that’s a particularly notorious challenge there, while a consumer audience startup trying to sell advertising might do fine with considering the sales job as a ‘commodity’ role.

Not many startups are thoughtful about this in the early stages, and some incorrectly assume that every employee needs to be a unicorn, while others also incorrectly believe that none need to be, so long as the culture is right. Think about the type of company you’re building, and start recruiting right now!

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