Entrepreneurial Team Building
Q: How can I find quality candidates interested in working for a startup?
It takes a special kind of person to work for a startup, and these special people seem
to be in short supply, according to many Netpreneurs.
According to Bruce Robbins, Vice President & CFO of Millenium Holdings, "It
takes more than an MBA to make it in a startup management team." To be a successful
entrepreneur, Robbins believes it takes the following qualities:
- The true entrepreneurial spirit. The ability to stick with the venture even when the
company is in it's darkest hour. When things look the worst they leverage every resource
they have to make it turn the corner and keep the flame going until the company is
- A concerted belief that the startup's product is viable in the marketplace. Without
that, they are of no value.
- The ability to bring an added value to the start-up (e.g. a special skill or their
More than a graduate degree, it takes vision, common sense, a Herculean commitment and
the resolution to weather the storm a startup stirs until you reach calm seas. You need to
find someone who is excited to build something with his or her hands. You can't learn it,
it's just something inside the human spirit. It's what makes the difference between a
"one time wonder", and a person who can start successful businesses over and
over again. [Bruce Robbins, email@example.com]
And while some people suggest that there is a local shortage of these entrepreneurial
types both Seth Grimes [firstname.lastname@example.org] and the Morino Institute's Steve
Fleckenstein disagree. First of all, the DC area is home to many young technology
companies that have made it big in less than ten years: UUnet, Digex, AOL, and
Microstrategy. And there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of startups and other small
companies in this region (and more if you count independent contractors). Not all are in
the Internet space, but they are entrepreneurial nonetheless. Secondly, how is it
different here than most other places? Even in Silicon Valley there are many people who'd
prefer to work for a large company like Oracle, Sun, HP, or Intel.
So why do people avoid working for startups? Andrew Forbes
[email@example.com] spoke with many fellow netpreneurs to compile the following
list. Chris Hagner [firstname.lastname@example.org] added his comments. Although not a complete
list, the reasons include:
- Fear of failure
- Losing their place on a clearly defined career track
- DC area inspires "up or out" mentality with a new venture equated to
- Lack of networking (e.g. no opportunity to rub shoulders with successful entrepreneurs).
The more netpreneurs someone knows, the more likely s/he is to consider such a career
- Apparent lack of interest in startups by VC?
- Lack of understanding as to how startups are structured
- Overestimation of own importance
- Financial obligations (e.g. schools loans, income security to support family)
- Unaware of the additional benefits of an entrepreneurial career. Most people, when
evaluating such a move, are heavily influenced by the risk and the downside. The numerous
upsides (flexible hours, autonomy, higher sense of satisfaction) need to be effectively
communicated to non-netpreneurs.
These are all things to look for when considering a job candidate.
But more importantly, why do people join startup firms? Anne Crossman,
[GoodJob@aol.com] believes that people join firms (both large firms and startups) because:
- They believe in what you are doing and think the work is exciting.
- They believe in the owner and/or the person with whom they work most.
- They trust the owner/company.
- Compensation (salary and/or equity)
Ms. Crossman believes that, "All of the risk of a startup goes away if the
potental employee truly believes in what you are doing and trusts that you will do your
best to act honorably." To get people to believe in your ideas, Ms. Crossman outlines
some steps to take:
- Put what you do in writing and hand it out liberally. People need to understand what you
do before they can buy in.
- Create relationships with the people you want to hire. People want to know who you are
before they sign up.
- Continually work at communicating what you and your company stand for.
If you still find it difficult to hire locally, think globally. John Casey of Sushi
Software [email@example.com] is a proponent of the distributed organization. A distributed
organization leverages partners/staff in other locations. This allows you to be regional
boosters without limiting your hiring to people that already live here or that will
relocate here immediately.
In one example, a small software startup of less than 20 people and initially based in
Boston, opened two other offices. They opened a development and tech support office in
Albuquerque and a DC office to handle international sales, channel marketing, and business
development. This strategy gave them the ability to grow more rapidly by finding good
people who would want to work in one (or more) of these three nice locations.
In this particular example, there was no monolithic headquarters since the three people
driving the business were in different locations very early in the launch. Naturally,
there were lots of challenges associated with a distributed organization model when in
startup mode (like the reduced number of hallway conversations, etc.). But the distributed
approach worked fairly well, offered some real advantages, and proved viable. As for
recruiting, they used to advertise in both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe for
positions that could be based in either DC or Boston. This gave them a recruiting
advantage, and some of the people who started in Boston later asked to relocate to DC.
Mr. Casey believes that, "On the recruiting front, having multiple
"portals" into your venture can make a big difference. If you're flexible, then
people can come on board without relocating immediately. They can get comfortable with the
company and its viability, and later they can move to another location if that is
desired/appropriate. This approach can significantly reduce the real or perceived risk of
joining your venture."