Startup Hiring: Why You Should Date Before Getting Married

Some interesting points here. It is certainly challenging to recruit the “early team,” which is also the most important team. This is one of the areas where bootstrapping makes it tougher vs. raising a lot of venture capital early so you can pay fancy salaries.

At BuzzPal, we want people who are more motivated by the chance to bootstrap a startup and get more equity. Other people will take little to no upside in exchange for a higher salary.

It’s a self selection process and there’s nothing wrong with one selection or the other. One model attracts confident and talented risk takers, the other not so much.

Most people understand the risk/reward function and the fact that different people prefer different parts of that specturm (and at different times in their lives).

Startups are more of a confident young risk-taker’s kind of situation.  Cheers!

Now on to the article:

April 24, 2006
Startup Hiring: Why You Should Date Before Getting Married

Most entrepreneurs, when asked, will tell you that hiring the “right people” is one of the most important things they do for their companies. However, what many entrepreneurs won’t tell you is that despite their best efforts, they suck at picking the best people during the recruitment process. I definitely fall into this camp.

This doesn’t just apply to hiring in the management ranks and technical staff, it applies to everyone. During most of the years I’ve run startups, I’ve always considered myself pretty good at detecting startup talent. But, the empirical data suggests that I’m almost as likely to screw it up completely as I am to get it right. Over time, as a startup founder, you learn not to rely on all the conventional proxies for trying to predict the probability of success of any given hire. Things like interviews (however intense), tests, grades, top universities, etc. are all only somewhat effective in raising your odds of making the right decision. After all is said and done, you’re likely to screw it up more often than you realize – or are likely willing to admit. And, the problem is not just limited to you – others on the team are not that much better at it.

That is why I think you should make it a practice to have people work for the company before you hire them. Though hiring an employee you don’t know is not quite as big a commitment as getting married, it can often be almost as risky from a startup’s perspective. (Apologies for the metaphor, it is almost 2:00 a.m. here in Boston and I can’t think of anything better).

In this model, potential employees (especially those in the technical ranks) are considered to be in a “probationary” period (what I would call the “dating” period) for some length of time. During this period (which was usually 60-90 days in my case), either party has the ability to declare that the relationship is just not working out and move on – with no misgivings on either side. This is made clear very early in the process. The potential recruit is paid “fair market value” during the trial period (but generally as a consultant and not a full-time employee). We’re not trying to take advantage of the employee or get free work – far from it. Other than the fact that they’re not on payroll, they pretty much are treated as a new hire. They learn real things, do real work and (hopefully) create real value.

At the end of the period (from the company’s perspective), here’s what you should look for: One or more people on your existing team should be passionate about keeping the recruit on board. They should be storming into your office making a desperate plea for you to make an employment offer to the recruit. If in 2-3 months this has not happened, then the recruit is likely not a good fit. To be clear on this, the “default” decision is to pass on the hire unless someone on the team provides compelling evidence and/or testimony of why the new recruit should be brought on board.

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