Faculty Speaks: The dangers in ”Who” to hire @ Startups !

“If you have hired for the established and or large firms in the past, in my view, it disqualifies you to hire for a startup unless .. “. 

“Beware ! Most folks reduce potential ‘high-impact’ roles into a ‘series of ‘tasks’ to be performed, while few evolve mundane jobs into high-impact roles .. “.

I will explain why I say this latter. First, let me narrate an incident. As a Prof. of Entrepreneurship, when I work with entrepreneurs, often I find myself in as much unfamiliar territory as the entrepreneurs themselves do. A fortnight ago, a corporate-veteran turned entrepreneur, who runs a promising startup now, whatsapp’edme ..

“Hi. Hope you are doing good. I m looking for a strategy consultant in our team. Ideally MBA with 2 years of experience. Location Delhi. Suggest from your students, alumni. Salary can be upto 14 lacs”.

Now, what is important here is that later, in our telephonic conversation, he shared with me insightful yet overall sketchy competencies or KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) that an ideal candidate must possess. Towards the end, I assured him that I would be able to assist him. I did not ask him for a formal JD that could be emailed to me. I was sure none existed.

For a startup, the central question is ‘who not to, and who to hire’. And, that is what this article is about.

Before anyone is tempted to answer this question, I draw your attention to the following 1. he ‘whatsapp’ed’ instead of a formal e-mail and 2. there was no formal JD inked on paper. Maybe he thought of this position last evening ! If you find this strange or uncomfortable, most likely you work for large and or established firms, and are not familiar with ‘the way of life, and the way of doing things’ at startups, and or small businesses.

I assure you this is perfectly normal. I have developed highest respect for what is called ‘the entrepreneurial way of life’, and their way of doing things i.e. culture. Their culture is completely in contrast from that at the large and or established firms. The cultural differences are –

Large and or established firms versus (vs.) Startups and small business

1.    Formal and orderly           vs.       Informal and untidy

2.   Planning, and systems      vs.       Intuition and feel

3.   Information-based decisions     vs.    Judgment based decisions

4.    Standards, & Accountability     vs.     Personal observations, & Trust

5.   Functionalism, & demarcation  vs.     Holistic & overlap

And, so on. The complete list can be referred in Prof. Alan Gibb’s research article published in Dec 1999 in Small Enterprise Development, Vol 10. No. 4.

Its not about a list of bad versus good.

So, if you hired for large organizations in the past, in my view,  it disqualifies you from hiring for a startup unless you learn to respect, respect, and respect (not accept) these cultural differences or ‘way of doing things’. Else you will hire people with right ‘skills’ but an incompatible mind-set including wrong motivations and expectations from the engagement.

Similarly, if you are seeking an employment with a startup, you better be aware of these differences or I guarantee that you would retire hurt without full play.

So, in my email, I highlighted 5 major areas to him that according to me will serve him well in all his hiring decisions. I must say these are as applicable to most positions in similar environments.


1.   An ideal candidate for a startup is one who is (a) able to define and evolvethe contours of her or his own job, (b) mentally oriented to enjoy this ride, and (c) capable of steering own, and others careers through the rough seas.

And, I assure you the sea’s get rough.

Hence, the candidate must have a deep understanding of ‘the context’ of the startup including the business environment, how it is evolving, what is the startup trying to achieve and how, and a clear vision of the vision of the founder(s). Within this overall context, she or he should be able to design own role.

2   Have a seamless or holistic view of the firm, and understand how and why different functions need to integrate and work-in-sync in order to create and deliver value etc.

A startup survival depends on ability of key people to visualize synergies which requires a person to be highly observant, and analytical, and deliver (make it happen). In brief, visualize and deliver 1+1 = 3, if not 11.

3.   More importantly,  working for a startup calls for a deep respect for (1) entrepreneurship, (2) the ambiguity and (3) constraints of an early stage venture.

Remember, most employees start viewing ‘constraints’ as threat to their professional and social well-being. Not able to deal psychologically (1) the constraints erode their self-worth, and (2) their need for affiliation is not satisfied (unless the startup is a Unicorn but by then its not a startup !). Then, they start damaging the informal fabric of your startup.

4.   As importantly, the startups need (1) independent or autonomous action, and (2)superior information seeking  skills as information reduces risk.

5.  Startups positions call for people who are intrinsically driven with a concern for high quality i.e. who relentlessly push boundaries, and who deliver through leading change unlike typical managers who are so afraid of making mistakes.

Don’t hire the wrong folks !

Source: http://bit.ly/2ggrK4R