Jul 262012

The Best Place to Work, Part 1: Surround yourself with the best and brightest

First in my series of posts around creating the best place to work  is to Surround yourself with the best and brightest.  This one is simple.  Build the best team you can possibly build…as you need it.

As a founder, you may be the best person at doing everything in your company, especially if you are a technical founder.  But as my long-time Board member at Return Path Greg Sands always says, when the organism grows, cells start to specialize.  Eventually, you need a liver and a brain.  Just like companies need a head of sales and a CFO (not to imply that Anita likes the occasional cocktail or that Jack likes math – turns out both like both).

How does this come into play as a CEO?

-Don’t be afraid to hire people better than you at their specialty – older, wiser, more experienced, more expensive

– Check references carefully – don’t get suckered in by resume or rolodex – some successful big company people don’t actually know how to do work or build a business, so you have to dig and find back-channel references

– Don’t overhire before you’re ready, but especially as a start-up, better to hire 3 months before you need the position, not 6 months too late

-Remember that you are the CEO.  Even if you hire very experienced people in specific roles, you have the best global view of everything going on in the company.  And you need to pay attention to people on your team and actively manage them, even experts who are older or wiser than you are

Surrounding yourself with the best and brightest can be daunting and even threatening to some CEOs.  But you have to do it to grow your business.  And you have to keep doing it as you keep growing your business (and your staff has to do the same!).

  • http://www.danielclough.com Daniel Clough

    Good first post in the series Matt.

    The references pointer is a good reminder for me to dig into this more thoroughly. I’ve been bitten a few times from big CV’s and smooth talk only to find that when the person hits the ground things don’t quite add up.

    The over hire point is interesting too. I’m not sure I agree.

    I always found that the best approach was to really stretch teams and roles in the early stages of building a company and then only when someone was stretched too thin, bring in the role vs. bringing it in earlier / exactly at the right time. For two reasons. You’re not always sure the new role is 100% necessary so having someone do some of it on the side for a while helps confirm that and overall it’s good discipline for not growing out the team / company too quickly – in the early stages you normally want as much of the focus to be on product development as possible rather than managing large numbers of people. I’ve seen small teams blow away larger teams because of their focus and agility.

    • Matt Blumberg

      My main point was better to hire a little too early than too late (assuming “just right” is almost never an option).  I agree about size of team and agility.  But the problem with too late is that you can stretch teams to the breaking point, and recruiting itself takes a lot of time and energy – and sometimes a lot more time than you expect.  If you are already stretched too thin doing two jobs…the twin evils become “I don’t have time to hire someone,” and “I desperately need someone – this person is good enough.”Matt