hiring and firing for startups

together with niclas fritz, i gave a short talk on hiring & firing for startups for a group of entrepreneurs and startup founders in the munich area as we were asked to talk about our own experiences on this topic.

there are many great articles and books available but as always with topics like these, the problem seems to be information overflow. our talk was therefore a short summary of great references and of course our own experience. please find the references and notes below.

hiring & firing for startups

  • hiring is one of the most imporant things founders do, if not the most important
  • if you don't hire well, you won't be successful

only hire when it really hurts

  • get your hands dirty and learn a role before you hire for it
  • only hire when your quality level is slipping
  • but if you decide to hire, spend more time on it, at least 1/3 of your time
  • try to outsource time consuming non core tasks
  • don't outsource hiring
  • pass on great people if you don't need them

good candidates are everywhere

  • start to build your network and contact people before you need them
  • offer internships and use universities or schools, but don't screw interns!
  • go to conferences and events
  • always talk to random people, e.g. in clubs, bars, busses, parks
  • try pyramiding

resumés are ridiculous

  • no further comment

surprise the candidate

  • if you can't throw bags of money in front of your candidate, you have to convince them with your goal, vision and culture
  • choose a nice location, such as a café (no alcohol or real food). ideally the place relates to something they love, wear your everyday clothes
  • use it to convince them that you are different and have an awesome company
  • interviewing remotely is ok, but definitely meet the candidate before you hire them

focus on personal questions but verify technical qualifications

  • a good interview should feel like a conversation, not questions and responses
  • have people audition instead of interview, e.g. have someone do a day or two of work with you before you hire them or alternatively do some real work for you
  • have a mission and sell it! sell your culture, your vision and your goal
  • have a set of cultural values you hire for (cultural fit), don't compromise
  • look for extracurricular things, e.g. sideprojects, hobbies

choose the friend that gets the job done

  • test drive first and ask colleagues/employees about their opinion
  • value performance, not experience
  • hire for attitude - train for skills
  • skip the rock stars, but make them
  • everybody works - avoid delegators
  • hire people you like (e.g. stripe's sunday test)

culture is action not words

  • startups are born without culture
  • if you encourage sharing, it becomes part of your culture
  • if you reward trust, it will become part of your culture
  • if you treat customers right, it becomes part of your culture
  • don't worry about company events - like a fine Scotch, you have to give you culture time to develop

put everyone on the front lines

  • empower your employees to make decisions on their own
  • don't run a restaurant where cooks never see the customer
  • make everybody talk to the customer to understand his needs and feedback
  • make your employees care about your clients
  • let them be praised first hand

fire fast

  • having to fire people is one of the worst things a founder has to do. get over it and trust that it will work out better than dragging things out
  • fire if employees don't fit into the culture
  • fire if they underperform
  • fire if they have a negative attitude
  • fire if they talk bad about you and your startup
  • fire if you have a gut feeling about it
  • waiting will destroy the culture and cause good employees to leave

but mistakes are not a reason to fire

  • employee mistakes are often rooted in bad leadership
  • get your leadership right, distribute knowledge and tasks
  • evaluate progress and give feedback
  • be open minded with suggestions
  • if mistakes happen, protect the employee and keep them on board

ps: don't hire

  • don't hire for the sake of hiring. hire because there is no other way to do what you want to do


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