When does a start-up begin to feel like a proper business? For many people it comes down to two things: Renting a fancy office and hiring a whole bunch of people. And because these two things signify success in many peoples’ minds, founders tend to rush into them, hiring a bunch of employees and installing them in a freshly-painted office. However, according to Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, it’s the worst thing you can do as a founder.
“One of the weird things you’ll notice as you start a company, is that everyone will ask you how many employees you have. And this is the metric people use to judge how real your start-up is and how cool you are. And if you say you have a high number of employees, they’re really impressed. And if you say you have a low number of employees, then you sound like this little joke,” says Altman.
“But actually it sucks to have a lot of employees, and you should be proud of how few employees you have. Lots of employees end up with things like a high burn rate, meaning you’re losing a lot of money every month, complexity, slow decision-making, the list goes on and it’s nothing good.”
Growth is a good thing, of course, but the kind of growth is important to pay attention to. You want your sales to grow. You want your revenue to grow. You want your profits to grow. You don’t want your expenses to grow any more than is absolutely necessary to facilitate revenue and profit growth.
“You want to be proud of how much you can get done with a small numbers of employees. Many of the best YC companies have had a phenomenally small number of employees for their first year, sometimes none besides the founders. They really try to stay small as long as they possibly can. At the beginning, you should only hire when you desperately need to. Later, you should learn to hire fast and scale up the company, but in the early days, the goal should be not to hire,” says Altman.
“And one of the reasons this is so bad, is that the cost of getting an early hire wrong is really high. In fact, a lot of the companies that I’ve been very involved with, that have had a very bad early hire in the first three or so employees never recover, it just kills the company.
Early hires are tricky, argues Altman, because they are more like co-founders than employees. They will be entering the business when it is still young, so they need to be motivated by the same things that are motivating the founders.
If they need ‘management’ in the traditional sense, and if they care about things like working hours and number of leave days, they probably won’t work well in a start-up. So, when hiring an extra hand becomes an absolute must, you need to fight the urge to employ the first decent person you interview. Hold out for someone you could picture as your co-founder.
“Airbnb spent five months interviewing their first employee. And in their first year, they only hired two. Before they hired a single person, they wrote down a list of the culture values that they wanted any Airbnb employee to have. One of those was that you had to bleed Airbnb, and if you didn’t agree to that they just wouldn’t hire you. As an example of how intense Brian Chesky is — he’s the Airbnb CEO — he used to ask people if they would take the job if they got a medical diagnosis that they have one year left to live. Later he decided that that was a little bit too crazy and I think he relaxed it to ten years, but last I heard, he still asks that question,” says Altman.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was similarly careful about hiring in the early days. “Mark Zuckerberg once said that he tries to hire people that he’d be comfortable hanging with socially and that he’d be comfortable reporting to if the roles were reversed. This strikes me as a very good framework. You don’t have to be friends with everybody, but you should at least enjoy working with them. And if you don’t have that, you should at least deeply respect them. But again, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time around people you should trust your instincts about that,” says Altman.
Unemployment Is Way Down: 3 Tips To Attract Employees In A Tight Market
Now that ping-pong tables have become table stakes, it will take benefits with substance to attract the best employees.
Get creative. From remote work options to diverse compensation plans, employers like you can tailor your employment package to match the employee.
In this way, you’ll follow the path of the most successful businesses, which see competitive talent markets not as an obstacle but rather an opportunity to demonstrate their companies’ merits, and entice would-be employees.
Flashy perks are out of fashion
Startup culture glorifies fun fringe benefits like ping-pong tables, beer on tap and free pizza. After all, what employees wouldn’t choose to spend Friday afternoons goofing off with co-workers and snacks?
Turns out, most of them. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that most employees would leave their current job if a competitor offered substantially more flexibility and money – not perks.
Real adult workers might enjoy Galaga arcade games in the break room, but they would rather be able to leave early to pick up their kids, schedule longer vacations and pay for better lifestyles with fatter pay cheques.
When the job market puts the power in the hands of the worker, businesses can’t skate by on superficial perks. To attract high-quality employees who will stay, companies must offer practical, competitive benefits with long-term appeal.
Here is what the top talent really wants:
1. Assistance with student debt and housing costs
The student loan debt crisis is bad and getting worse. College graduates are finding jobs, but their wages aren’t going up. Those in the workforce are making payments late and falling into delinquency.
The problem isn’t limited to recent grads, either. Debt.org reports that the number of people older than 60 with student loan debt has quadrupled over the last 10 years.
Companies can help workers break this cycle by offering student loan support in addition to regular salary. Some providers of programmes now help employers offer student loan assistance programs, to attract new employees.
Employees saddled with debt often struggle to save up for big purchases like houses. In addition to student loan assistance, consider offering a mortgage assistance programme to help employees pay for housing. Not only will employees appreciate the fast track to home ownership, but they might stay with the company longer if they buy a house with a five-minute commute.
2. Forward-thinking travel policies
The Global Business Travel Association found that 59 percent of candidates surveyed consider travel policies when they choose an employer. And there’s a lot more to take into account here than just help booking a flight.
In fact, a movement is growing to make employee comfort a priority in business travel plans, since 79 percent of business travellers report that travel experiences affect their job satisfaction.
“The direct benefit of revamped travel policies is increased loyalty from employees and potential hires alike,” Scott Hyden wrote on Recruiter.com; he’s chief experience officer for RoomIt, a hotel-booking solution for corporate travellers.
What’s important is that smart employers not cram employees into the cheapest non-chain hotel closest to the airport. They take care of the little things (like storing and shipping business clothing) to make every travel experience go smoothly. They allow traveling workers to earn loyalty perks and points from hotels and airlines for personal redemptions. These small courtesies don’t cost much, but they make a big difference to workers.
3. Preparation help for retirement
According to PwC’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness survey, most employees are not confident that their retirement savings will even make it to retirement; 42 percent surveyed believed they would need to use money from retirement plans for other expenses.
Leaders should work with retirement plan providers and financial services companies to provide employees with resources and tools to plan for the future no matter what their salary grade.
By providing retirement literacy and investment-education options, enterprises help workers make the most of their pay cheque and live healthy, fulfilling lives. Don’t just put the resources out there and let employees figure it out themselves, though. Invite financial advisors to come talk to employees every few months about their options.
Invest in workers’ futures, and they will be more likely to spend that future with the company that helped them. Even if it’s not currently possible to offer a pension equivalent, employees will appreciate the educational assistance in getting their savings plans up to snuff.
So, yes, ping-pong tables and puppy breaks are fine, but employees are more interested in stability and flexibility than entertainment. Use practical benefits to attract top talent, retain the best workers and ensure that people who work for the company have the resources they need to live successful lives.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
After Realising He’d Hired All The Wrong People, This Food Start-up Founder Hit Reset
JUST co-founder Josh Tetrick wanted to build a disruptive company, so he hired disruptive employees. Then he got disrupted himself.
Josh Tetrick had never run a food company, and he considered that an asset. His goal was to disrupt the food industry, so he wasn’t interested in old ways of doing things. “If you had told me when I started the company that one of the keys to success would be hiring people who are experts at going out to the Midwest to visit different warehousing partners, I would have been like, ‘Shut the fuck up,’ ” he says. Instead, as he built his startup JUST (originally called Hampton Creek), he hired outsiders like himself. It seemed to work. His first product, an egg-free mayonnaise, debuted in 2014 at Northern California Whole Foods stores and shortly thereafter was carried by thousands of Safeways and Walmarts. Demand was high.
Then lids started popping off. Labels fell off, too. The packaging was defective, and the product went from a success to a money-loser. As Tetrick scrambled, he came to a hard realisation: An entrepreneur can be too disruptive for his own good.
At the beginning, Tetrick fit a certain Silicon Valley archetype – the brash founder who celebrates inexperience. There’s a logic to it. If you want to rock an industry with fresh ideas, you can’t be bound by industry standards. And Tetrick had big ambitions. In creating animal-free versions of staples like eggs, mayonnaise, cookie dough and more, he wanted people to rethink how food is made. So he set up shop in a Bay Area garage and began hiring people he thought could make a huge impact – experts in data science and high-tech platforms.
Then came the disastrous launch. As his products lost money, he began examining the causes. There were many. His company had a terrible manufacturing contract and had picked the wrong manufacturers and warehouse partners. Its shipping process was a mess, and so was its supply chain. “Pretty much everything we should have been doing in operations we weren’t doing,” he says.
When CEOs reflect back, they often regret that they didn’t move faster to fire people who weren’t right for the company. Waiting even an extra month can drag down an organisation. Tetrick understood this. He’d hired smart people, but now he realised they were the wrong smart people. So he laid off a few and replaced them with industry vets.
“We hired a guy who gave me the most boring presentation I’ve had in the history of all interviews,” Tetrick says. “But that was great, because all he wanted to do was talk about warehousing.” Then Tetrick forced himself to step back from hiring. Rather than be in control of every decision, as he once was, he left his new industry experts to build their own team – filtering for what they thought was important, rather than what he did.
Operations team members either caught on or were replaced. Contracts were renegotiated. Supply chains were fixed. Losses shrank and disappeared.
As he watched this happen, Tetrick reconsidered his leadership. “I need to be intelligent enough to know that there’s a whole bunch of stuff I don’t know anything about,” he says. But more than that, he needed to appreciate the limits of change.
“Everything is not a revolution,” he says now. Some things can be reinvented, but others are better off embraced.
Today, Tetrick says, JUST is a growing 120-person company and is on its way to going public. That’ll be the next phase of its revolution – all thanks to some very non-revolutionary employees.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
That ‘Bad’ Interviewee You Just Talked To May Be The Perfect Match For Your Job Opening
The ‘pattern matching’ that companies have long used to find the right candidate isn’t always the best strategy.
Think you’ve just conducted a bad interview? You may be mistaken.
Walking back to our office in San Francisco’s SOMA neighbourhood one recent sunny Friday afternoon, I was excited about the job interviews I had scheduled for the afternoon. While some entrepreneurs hate this task, I’ve always relished it. To me, finding like-minded individuals with the requisite skills and a passionate desire to change the world – or something “like” that – is thrilling. Right?
At least it is for me: That afternoon, I would be conducting phone interviews for our open head of sales position, a notoriously difficult role to fill, not for a lack of candidates, but rather for the challenge of weeding out the perfect candidate truly skilled at closing sales and helping to build our health-intelligence platform.
That afternoon, however, reality set in, in the form of close to ten disappointing phone calls.
Picking up my phone once more, I made my final call – to the most unlikely candidate of the bunch. And, within two minutes, I was floored: This guy was quizzing me on my knowledge of our business space. Not only that, but he was also asking about my personal relationships with competitors. Huh?
Calling around to other founders after the interview, I quickly uncovered a strong consensus based on those founders’ individual experiences: This candidate’s comments weren’t weird or unwelcome, they said. In fact, they considered the best salespeople to be the ones who quizzed them.
For me, this was the first of many unexpected interview lessons that I learned “on the fly” as a start-up founder. One of those lessons was that, in conducting job interviews and evaluating candidates, most hiring managers rely on “pattern matching” – the idea that you can identify patterns in candidates, in terms of their personal attributes and skills which align with your organisation’s mission and values.
In the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, this practice has intensified, as pattern matching has gone high-tech. Recruiters and organisations are turning to algorithms to more accurately identify talent “matches.”
However, even with this new data analysis capability, the concept of pattern matching can break down. Here are some further lessons I’ve learned that demonstrate the fallibility of “pattern matching” and why it may be challenging to rely on it during job interviews.
1. A “bad” interviewee could be the right colleague
We often want to hire people we get along with. When a candidate can quickly and seamlessly integrate into the team, we can almost immediately leverage that collaboration for better business results. What’s more, the likelihood of conflict diminishes significantly, removing obstacles that often impede organisations when team members have contrasting values.
Finding that seamless integration can be quickly determined through an interview, where we evaluate someone for his or her skills and ability to gel with team members. Yet, even a bad interview doesn’t mean the candidate won’t be a good match.
“Sometimes, a challenging interview does not equate to a poor hire,” Simon MacGibbon, my colleague and CEO of the health-monitoring company, Myia, told me.
“You need to be able to look at the scope of the entirety of the candidate, including background interviews, reference checks and work product. Basing hiring on interviewing alone puts many companies at risk of passing over candidates with valuable skill sets and different, but complementary, personalities.”
2. Hire for attitude. Train for skills
Herb Kelleher, the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines, said it best in the book Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success: “Hire for attitude and train for skills.” This, of course, is how Southwest grew from relatively humble beginnings into one of the largest airlines in the world.
However, interviewers may be biased toward skills over attitude. Naturally, it is easier to opt for a quantifiable metric than to dig into a candidate’s personality and disposition.
Consider Michael Lewis and his book Moneyball, which recounts how professional baseball started using Sabermetrics to determine a player’s skill level and performance potential. Other industries have likewise leveraged specific metrics and assessment tools to identify the right candidates for open positions.
However, stringent metrics aren’t everything and may not always deliver the right candidates for a constantly evolving business environment. Some of the nation’s top entrepreneurs are now hiring candidates who are demonstrably adaptable and who can forge their own paths.
“When hiring, we focus on grit and fit over pedigree and expertise,” Daniel Fine, founder of Neu Brands, told me. “All are relevant and important, but when you’re building a rapidly scaling company, culture and team alignment have to be the top priority. This isn’t something I’ve always been successful with, but having learned the hard way, it’s now a focal point.”
Related: The Exit Interview
3. Interviewees who interview you know they can get a job anywhere
Going back to the example of our search for our head of sales candidate: The best candidates for a position will often interview the interviewer to learn whether they can be successful in the role. These days, they know they can go anywhere; record low unemployment works in their favour. Yet, remarkably, a lot of entrepreneurs and managers do not respond positively to this shift in power which gives talent the upper hand. Many positions go unfilled, as a result.
A 2018 research report confirmed this. Titled Talent Intelligence and Management Report, from Eightfold.ai and Harris Interactive, it compiled findings from 1,200 interviews with CEOs and found that 28 percent of positions went unfilled. Also in the study, 87 percent of CEOs and CHROs stated that they were facing at least one talent-related challenge. Employers are even giving up college-degree requirements in an attempt to widen their candidate pool.
So, the next time a candidate interviews you, in his or her job interview, you may want to think again. This person is probably more sought after than you think.
It’s time to win the right talent
It may not be a good feeling for a founder or executive to come to grips with this new reality. However, it’s also a valuable opportunity to change your interview approach and start evaluating candidates on more than experience and skills. By accepting this new shift in power, you can improve your position in the race to hire the best talent.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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