How do I find the right people to work with?

Gregg Fairbrothers:  There are three parts to this question: what kinds of people do you need? Where do you find them?  And once you’ve found them, how do you entice them to join you?

  1. Your needs for “the right people” usually include co-founders, boards of directors and advisors, employees, professional services providers, vendors, partners, even customers. There are a few commonalities, but the criteria and means of attracting them differ.
  2. Networking is always a resource. As an entrepreneur, the collection of people you know and can access when you need them is arguably your most valuable asset. Always be nurturing your network, and use it to find the right people. That network can also help you with figuring out who is “right.” That’s an important question!
  3. How right is “right” is a judgment call. Striving for the ideal is always ideal, but it isn’t always wise. There are only so many hours in the day, and while your idea is evolving it probably can’t attract as high a level of quality as it will after it is succeeding. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s advice: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”
  4. How well you pitch has a big effect on getting the right people to buy in and engage with you.  (See my post on pitching your ideas

 

Kate Sackman (President, EcoMyths Alliance):

  1. The team is everything: Surround yourself with the smartest people possible and make sure everyone has the same goal in mind for the same reasons.
  2. Don’t cut corners: When budgets are tight, and they always are in start-ups, there is a temptation to hire “bargain employees” to save money.  Don’t do it.  The risk is too high.  Hire excellent people who love your project and pay them what they are worth.  Otherwise you will waste time and, yes, money.  Years ago, we hired a computer systems engineer for a tech start-up who had been recommended, in part, because he was inexpensive.  As a result, we lost a couple of years of development time.  Although we were trying to economize, we actually bought headaches.  What appeared to be development challenges, we learned too late, were based primarily on this engineer’s lesser skills.  Look around.  Take the extra time to find really talented people who work smarter and faster.  Excellent people will discount their upfront pay expectations if they believe passionately in the business opportunity.
  3. Be comfortable with ambiguity: Excellent team members not only have skills that are supplemental to those of the other team members, they are comfortable with roles that are ambiguously defined at the start.  They are creative about figuring out how to create a process where one does not exist; they are not easily offended when people misunderstand each other and can work collegially with the other members of the team to define the project as it moves along.  As a manager, you only need to give a skilled team member simple parameters of what is needed.  He or she will come back with something complete and will surprise you with even more substance or creativity than the task required.
  4. Execution, execution, execution: Any savvy investor will tell you that a team of talented people is the most important factor in making their investment.  As a manager or an investor, you need people who execute very well.  If a business has a killer app, but the team members don’t get things done, the business will die before it gets started.  Execution is everything.  People need to be willing and able to get things done in a timely, high quality way.  Passion, creativity, collaboration, and discipline are essential in a team that executes and wins.

 

Jason Hsaio (President and Co-Founder, Animoto) and Brad Jefferson (CEO and Co-Founder, Animoto): Finding the right people to start a company with or to hire as early employees is tricky because one bad hire can set your company back months or kill it altogether.  To fill the candidate funnel you need to advertise any way possible (job boards, your website) and blast your trusted network with emails, LinkedIn broadcasts, etc.  Investors and partners are also good sources of candidate referrals.  Contingency recruiters are great because they only get paid if they make a placement.  Retained recruiters are much more expensive but common for VP or above roles.  Depending on the role, make sure the candidate is solid on requisite skills and then do two very important things to get a sense for how well they’ll fit in with your culture:

  1. Check their references and dig around for indicators of how much people liked working with the candidate;
  2. Do one last interview and focus mostly on culture fit.  You and/or your team will be in the trenches with this person so make sure you can imagine spending countless hours shoulder-to-shoulder with the candidate and believe you will still enjoy their company.  Put another way, would you be excited or dread sitting next to them in a cross-country flight?  Trust your gut with this decision.  Mastery of the skillset is critical but culture fit is non-negotiable.
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