When we first started our company, I thought I had read enough books, blog posts, and articles written by “the experts” to know the ins and outs of hiring. Then, after building our initial team I realized that a lot of what I read in those books didn’t actually apply, things were different, our product was unique, our market was unique, heck the city and specific office we were in were unique and all of those factors combined made things different.
Then we hired someone who considered themselves an expert at hiring. He said I just hadn’t read the right books, I needed to read the Patrick Lencioni books, which I agree are awesome, but they also helped me realize something. You can’t learn real business lessons by reading a book, startup or not, you have to do it yourself.
Now I’m not saying these books are useless. Yes, I’ve picked up solid nuggets of information from everything I’ve read, and I still think that The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is one of the best books I’ve read, period, and I’ve read it twice just to make sure everything sinks in. Still, you can read all the books in the world and encounter situations that, surprise surprise, aren’t in a book.
In startups this is more true than ever since you’re dealing with an incredibly fast-paced environment with a product or service that likely doesn’t have product market fit yet, isn’t completely built, or doesn’t have the right funding to really do what you want. As a founder you have to balance all of these things, keeping the company in a good place financially, keeping your customers happy, making sure the product is delivering as expected, and at the same time, juggle the most important thing of all – building a great team that’s excited and inspired to join you on your mission.
I know a lot of people that have been Managers at companies, they’ve build and managed teams, read all the books, then they become founders themselves and poof – everything changes. Yes, it’s different hiring when it’s your own company vs. being a Manager or Director and hiring for a company that you’re working for. Like I said above, plenty of those awesome lessons you read about in a book still apply, but many don’t – it’s a different world and like most things in startupland, you need to learn by doing.
It’s an exciting time for our company, we’re opening up an office in San Francisco and making two new hires in the Bay Area. I can tell you that the process we’re following, and the way in which we’re filtering to get the right kind of person for our company is very different from the way we did it two years ago. We’ve had the experience of giving the “serial job hopper” a try, who claimed they weren’t a serial job hopper (and said this time was different) and, yes, they turned out to still be a serial job hopper. We’ve also hired amazing people that we gave a chance to, even though the role wasn’t exactly a fit, and we’ve seen them soar to new heights.
The key here is that we’re always learning, and while I still read books, articles, and blog posts about hiring. I know that the biggest lessons are those we have learned from experience (both good and bad), and those we are going to learn. To be clear I’m no expert, we’re still new startup founders, and the best we can do is take our experiences and use that to guide our path forward. What I can tell you is that while reading books can build a great foundation, if you want to know what it’s really like to start your own company and built a team, you’ll have to do it yourself, no book can tell you everything you need to know, that’s where taking the plunge and doing it yourself really is the only way to learn.
Just remember, you’re always learning.