Hiring Rock Stars

By Christopher Michel, Maveron Sector Advisor

This morning, I noted that Auren Hoffman posted a link to Mark Suster’s great blog post, “Who Should You Hire in a Start-up?”  Essentially, Mark advocates for hiring people that want to “punch above their weight class.”  In other words, people that are still striving to grow in their careers.  I couldn’t agree more.  Giving people a shot at the big job often delivers fantastic results – for 3 main reasons.

First, it allows you to recruit rock-stars out of existing companies.  Let’s face it, many of the best people are already employed.  They know they are good – and are thinking about the next step in their career.  For a host of reasons, their existing employer might not be willing or capable of providing that next challenge.  You are.

So, for example, the director of marketing at XYZ.com is the one making it happen at the company.  XYZ already has a competent VP of marketing and is unlikely to promote their director, as there isn’t room in the org chart for her.  That’s where you come in….sorry XYZ!

Second, the person is likely to work extra hard to demonstrate that they can do the job.  Our new VP of marketing (from XYZ) knows that you’ve just bet big on her (with the board, the team, etc) – and that she left a great job to play in the majors (the management team).  Failure just isn’t an option.  Contrast that with the “industry veteran,” who has less to prove, isn’t willing to sacrifice life balance (forgive me for being so blunt), and might be more easily disappointed if the job doesn’t meet their generally high expectations (difficulty, comp, structure, etc).

Third, our “striver” is more likely to be good at both personal execution as well as delegation.  I’ve found this to be a critical characteristic of start-up success.  Often, senior “industry veterans” are less willing to roll up their sleeves and do actual work.  Often the kind of output required for entrepreneurial success requires the full involvement of the senior team.  As you well know, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to delegate innovation.  Our new VP of marketing, for example, knows the specifics of media buying (the people, the deal structure, terms, etc) and will often be able to leverage their (relevant & timely) experience to more effectively lead and calibrate an execution-driven team.  (I wrote more about this here: http://gigaom.com/2007/06/06/outcomes-vs-activity/)

I’m making a great number of generalizations in this post.  Experienced leaders have much to offer startups – and can provide game-changing DNA to companies.  That being said, I’ve consistently found that hiring people earlier in their careers and giving them big jobs is a winning strategy.  At both Affinity Labs and Military.com, we had a large number of team members right out of college.  We gave them big jobs, believed in them, and they delivered simply amazing results.

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