Startup People

What makes someone a really good employee for a startup?

I was at a company culture outing a few years ago (small startup) and some people said they wanted to work there because they wanted to be part of a rocket ship. They thought the previous experience of the leadership team was such that the company would obviously be part of a huge new success story. This really freaked me out at the time.

Every startup is exactly like a rocket ship, except that there is no place to sit, no engine, no wings, no navigation and no idea how rockets work. In other words, it’s just a dream, a vision of the future. It’s not a rocket ship at all. You don’t want to hire people who want to be on the ship. You want to hire people who want to BUILD the ship, because it doesn’t exist yet.

Imagine you build half a ship and start flying it into space and then realize that you completely forgot oxygen masks and everyone is going to die in moments. You want people who can build an oxygen system out of random parts, while flying a thousand miles an hour. You want people who climb out on the wing and jerry-rig a new kind of engine just because it is needed at the time. You want people who think quickly, collaborate together and figure it out. You don’t want the people who manage a large organization effectively. You don’t want solid B+ workers. Each person needs to be the A-Team, with a specialty and a mentality of working through problems.

We all know these sorts of people. They create systems from scratch. They find the one vendor who can unlock a huge use case. It’s not scalable at all and won’t survive the long-term growth, but it gets the job done in the short run. A startup needs these people desperately. You don’t break out of orbit without them.

Of course, as you grow and get into orbit, you need a completely different set of people. We all are perfect people if you just adjust the situation and timing. Are you in the right position at the right time?