Startup Mantra: Hire Fast, Fire Fast

Posted on May 26, 2011 | 54 comments


This post originally appeared on TechCrunch.  I have often said that what separates real entrepreneurs from pundits and bystanders is a bias towards getting things done versus over analyzing things. My credo has always been JFDI.

It’s the hardest thing to teach people who come out of big companies, out of conservative jobs. At the big consulting firms, investment banks and established large technology companies we’re taught to produce long reports, make sure that every document is perfect quality and that every possible bit of diligence has been done. Good enough isn’t.

And so things operate on a CYA basis.

That doesn’t work in a startup.

There’s a certain cadence that you can feel when you spend time hanging any well-run startup company. The management team has to have a bias toward making decisions. They know that a 70% accurate decision made quickly and based on sound principles is better than a 90% decision made after careful consideration.

The startup entrepreneur knows that they’re going to be wrong often. They’re flexible and willing to admit when they’re wrong. They don’t create a culture of punishment for mistakes. They live be the credo that if you’re never making mistakes you’re not trying hard enough.

In my mind the sign of a great entrepreneur is the one that spots the 30% scenario quickly and adjusts but doesn’t get gun shy about rapid decision-making in the future.

In fact, analysis paralysis drives me fucking bonkers. It is not uncommon in a meeting for me to say, “There are three choices: A, B, C. My gut tells me that we ought to do B. But let’s decide as a group. I don’t care if my view isn’t selected. Let’s make a decision and move on.”

Many people find this uncomfortable. The world is filled with people who don’t like having to put their neck on the line and say what they think. I don’t really care if I’m wrong as long as I’m not dogmatic if evidence later shows we need to change course.

So that was a long walk into the topic of recruiting. But given that I believe the success of startups is almost entirely correlated with having extra-ordinary talent, the ability to source, select and inspire new staff to join is one of the greatest early tests of entrepreneurs.

There is an old management adage that says, “Hire slowly, fire fast.” The idea has become conventional wisdom. It says that you need to take due care in selecting team members. It also says that you need to act quickly when your instinct says somebody isn’t working out.

Only half of this adage is accurate for startups.

Hire Slowly?
This is the bit I have a problem with. I don’t think that recruiting is any different than any other decision process in a company. You’re never really going to know how somebody is going to perform in the role, how good of a cultural fit he or she is going to be and how motivated they’re going to become until they’re on the inside.

I’m not arguing that no screening is required. There are obvious questions you have give staff to get a gut feel on cultural fit, intelligence, aptitude and the like.

But here’s the thing. I see many teams that feel the need to interview another 3 candidates just to be sure. They suffer the decision on the way in. They over think the decision framework.

I come from the “Blink” school of recruiting and decision-making. If you haven’t read it, you should. As humans most of us are inherently good at reading people and our innate instincts for “fit” are much better than our ability to analyze humans on a spreadsheet.

I also subscribe to the views that you should always be recruiting (ABR) and when great people pop up you hire them and then find a way to make the role fit. I’d much rather have the super bright, super ambitious, great cultural fit in my business now than look for the “perfect” person who’s done this job before and maybe find them in 3 months. 3 months is a lifetime in a startup.

If you haven’t read it I’ve written before on these topics:
1. Attitude over Aptitude
2. Only Hire A+ People
3. Hiring at a Startup

And just as my gut feel about the likely success of startups is often determined by looking at their velocity of product development and market progress of their product, so too is recruiting a factor in my assessment.

Great leaders and great teams have the ability to find potential staff, evaluate their fit, inspire them to join and onboard them. They have good recruiting velocity.

Any team that I work with that struggles to hire people quickly knows that I’m likely frustrated because I have many other companies that I work with that aren’t so slow.

And when we didn’t ship product on time, didn’t get the biz dev deals we wanted competed, didn’t get our market messages out and the founder says, “sorry, I had too many other priorities – like fund raising” they know it will fall on deaf ears with me. Time spent onboarding new talented team members always yields more productivity than doing everything yourself.

“But we don’t have budget!”

Great entrepreneurs find a way. Recruiting cadence matters.

Fire Fast?
I’ve written in the past about changing jobs too frequently and I received a lot of blow-back from technical people who said, “I had asshole CEOs. When we hit a bump in the road he was very quick to slash-and-burn.”

I was trying to argue that it’s OK to change jobs a few times when you’re young and that “things happen” but that if things happened 5-6 times there is probably a pattern that isn’t completely the fault of some asshole boss.

But people don’t like to hear about firing or job cuts, so I was flamed.

So I have been reluctant to weigh in again on the topic publicly. Brad Feld and I were discussing the topic at lunch at the most excellent Glue Conference this week in Boulder.

He encouraged me to write this post and after smoking me out on Twitter I had no choice. ;-) Outed.

So here goes.

I have never regretted firing anybody. Not once.

I have on many occasions regretted not firing somebody quickly enough.

I don’t take any pride in letting somebody go. I recognize that it affects somebody economically, can affect somebody’s personal life and is one big blow to the ego. But if you’re afraid of firing people you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. No startup company has any spare capacity for dead weight.

I’ve made every excuse to myself in the past, “I can’t fire him now, he owns the customer relationships and it’s a crucial point in our sales process.” Or, “I haven’t given him a long-enough chance to prove himself – let me see how he develops” or even, “it will have a big impact on morale because she is well liked. I can’t afford that right now.”

I’ve heard VCs use similar rationale, “We knew the CEO wasn’t working out but we couldn’t fire him because it would have made it too hard to get a fund raising round done” only to later regret not moving more quickly and reacting to the obvious discontent of the rest of the startup team.

I’ve lived through every excuse. And for every firing procrastination I’ve made, one month afterwards I’ve always felt the exact same way, “Why didn’t I do this three months early?”

Trust me: if you know, you know. If you know, do it now. Things don’t get better. Your “Blink” instincts are right. You won’t patch things up. Delaying the inevitable is not going to make things smoother with your investors, biz dev partners, customers or employees.

There is only one answer: fire fast.

Firing somebody is no different than the other 10,000 decisions you need to make in your company to survive. You free up much needed budget. You free up the org chart to bring in new blood. Almost universally your staff will come out of the wood-works and say, “thank you, he needed to go.”

When people aren’t pulling their weight other members who are know it. And they’re grateful to work in an organization where they’re valued and slackers aren’t.

When you have to fire somebody, don’t pussyfoot about. Don’t make up fake excuses about why they’re going or try to pretend it’s a redundancy or something. Tell them specifically what isn’t working. Don’t be mean for the sake of it. Give them suggestions of how they might think about the situation differently at the next company. Give them honest and constructive feedback.

If the sacking is legitimate, chances are they knew in their gut it wasn’t working and will appreciate the candor.

Obviously make sure that you’re following a legal process. In the US and UK if the termination comes reasonably quickly you’re almost always OK but please double-check with your legal advisors.

To be clear – I’m not advocating creating a slash-and-burn employee culture where there is a constant revolving door. I do believe that you set the tone in your company that you as a founder work your arse off and expect it of others. You make sure people know it’s a meritocracy and the best staff will rise to the top. Age and experience are irrelevant. Good people get ahead, bad people get asked to leave.

So there you have it. Most companies hire slowly and fire slowly – the exact opposite of best practice for startups.

Pick up your recruiting cadence. Take a risk on people who you think will be a good fit. Don’t look for perfect resumes. Take some chances. Trust your gut feel. And when you got it wrong you move on. You’ll recover.

Move fast. Don’t delay the inevitable. Check your legal framework. Get your papers in order. Treat people with respect and professionalism. Be open and productive. But honest with them about their shortcomings or why they aren’t working culturally. But fire them quickly.

Flame away.

Image courtesy of Joeff via Flickr.

  • http://blog.daryn.net daryn

    Mark, I’m with you on ABR, and conceptually with you on hiring fast, but  you’ve got to be really good at screening, BS detection, rooting out real feedback from references, and interviewing, in order to do this efficiently in a small startup. Otherwise, the administrative and cultural overhead of bringing in the wrong people will kill you, even if you get them back out the door as quick as you let them in.

  • http://twitter.com/peteryared Peter Yared

    frickin hilarious & deadon!

    but it does need a limit – if you’re cycling thru too many people, you’re doing something wrong.

    peter

  • http://reecepacheco.com reecepacheco

    glad you listened to Brad and posted this.

    firing sucks, but it’s part of the job.

    in our first startup, we hired FRIENDS who were chomping at the bit to work with us and gave us 1000 reasons why they should.  my gut didn’t feel great about it, but my cofounders said let’s do it…

    long story short, i later had to let go of both of them as we learned they weren’t doing their jobs. hardly working startup guys, indeed…
    http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6507690/hardly-working-start-up-guys

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Thank you for confirming a long-held belief.

    My last company died slowly because we didn’t fire quickly enough (and because our CEO stole most of our cash, but that’s another story). Instead, we had a slow death knell while wasting good money on people who weren’t.

    Meanwhile, I think that a hire – while certainly not easy – is a lot like meeting a great friend or good date. You may want to give it a couple tests early to make sure it’s not just a false first impression, but you can often tell quickly if someone is or isn’t going to be a great person to have and a great fit.

  • http://www.startups-london.com Chris

    Hi Mark, great post as usual! We have been seeing a move towards lengthy (low pay) internships in the London startup community due to high levels of employment tax even on your first few hires. Until this changes I fear that internships will remain common – particularly in the non-engineering roles. One benefit of these internships that I can see is that people are put into roles quicker, evaluated quicker and then moved on quicker if they are not a good fit. There are obviously a lot of draw backs to this approach, one would be @twitter-14797045:disqus point below that you cycle through far too many employees with this approach. I am definitely of the belief however that you really don’t know for sure if someone if good until you give them a chance…  

    Would you recommend startups trying the internship route to remain flexible and nimble in the hiring process? 

  • http://wildirishguy.com Damon Oldcorn

    Yes saw somewhere recently someone being lauded for their famous 5 hour interview process as if that was a badge of honour – you are right a founder/CEO  if any good acts professionally but trusts his gut to hire quickly. As you said as with all things in business once you sense the slide it never gets better, cut cleanly and fast before it spreads.  

  • http://www.dlewis.net/nik Dan Lewis

    Much like your firing instinct, you should trust your publication ones.  You should have written this three months ago, not today.

    The only exception I take with it is that typical (non-startup) companies should hire slowly.  I’ve never understood this.  Why spend, collectively, weeks worth of staff time (and months of actual time) to try and determine which of five candidates is going to be the best?  It’s a total joke.  Any one of the five will probably be fine, and you can probably start one and fire him or her if he’s awful in less time (and similar resources) if he or she turns out to have sold you a bill of goods.

  • http://byJess.net Jess Bachman

    It seems it would make sense to have a one or two month trial or internship to gauge work quality and fit. After that period, the real hire takes place. Of course pay would be the same for both trial and real hire. Is this a good idea? It would make firing easier if there was an expected review and decision process at the thirty day mark.

  • http://twitter.com/jeremybonney Jeremy Bonney

    Awesome and wise words as always, Mark.

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    This is an interesting concept. Perhaps offer a potential bump in pay for stellar performance when the transition takes place? 

  • chrisknovel

    Amen!

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    I’ve learned the hard way over the years that I need to listen carefully to my instincts when it comes to hiring, and err on the conservative side if the antennas are tweaking.

    When it comes to firing, I agree with you. Move fast. I do recommend that if someone isn’t really working out and it has been more than a few weeks, try to provide feedback in a documentable way. It is the bad eggs, I might even say the worst eggs, who sue when you have to part ways and that can be a drain of money and top management time.

  • http://twitter.com/_DaveWalters Dave Walters

    Spot on, Mark! Customer traction is the goal — and time is the enemy — of any startup with an upward trajectory. Anything that doesn’t turbocharge user acquisition and/or create raving fans needs to go as quickly as it came. And in reality, the 2-3 person leadership team will be equally responsible for the great calls *and* the shitty calls. Own them, fix them & make unabashed forward progress. Thanks for stepping into the flames on this one!

  • http://yountlabs.com Marshall Yount

    Great thought provoking post! I’ve seen many companies get the “fast to hire” bit right (including using good “blink” skills to get solid people onboard quickly), but I’ve never been part of an org that “fires fast” properly. This seems to be the more difficult cultural piece to implement.

    Steve Newcomb wrote a great piece on Cult Creation which recommends bringing all employees on for a 30 day trail contract period. Steve is obviously on the “hire slow” train, but I think he makes a lot of relevant points.

    http://blognewcomb.squarespace.com/essays/2010/10/14/cult-creation.html

    In particular, up to 50 employees the entire team is polled before starting the contract period and there can be no vetos. After getting to actually work with the new person for a month the entire team is polled again and every person on the team has to give a “yes.”

    What do you think of this approach? It democratizes the hiring/firing power through the entire startup team. In general, I’d rather see more of a decisive executive force here, but there are some interesting points.

  • Rhatta

    Mark, “hire fast” sounds a lot like “fail fast”.  And I know how much you LOVE that mantra.  I think what you mean is that if you’re always recruiting as part of your daily routine, and you move quickly when you spot someone special (whether you’ve got budget, a position or whatever), you will naturally be hiring fast.  But you need to know what you’re looking for and have a scalable/repeatable process for recruiting, hiring and onboarding.  I’d say, “recruit slow” and “hire fast”… and “fire fast”.  “Hire fast,” like “fail fast,” can be interpreted as meaning you don’t need to prepare, know what you’re looking for, and put in a basic level of effort before pulling the trigger on a new hire.  Am I over-analyzing?

  • http://www.justanentrrepreneur.com Philip Sugar

    As long as you never ever settle hire fast.  You have to have no doubts you’ve found the right person.

    Totally agree with the fire fast.  I think a point quite a few people don’t make is that bad people bring even good people down.

    You know the old saying 80% of people think they’re above average.  I agree with that.  I think its natural human nature to say, ok I KNOW I’m better than that shitbird, and settle a little bit.

    Its hard to prevent.  I’m going to admit to it.  When I volunteer for something like my son’s baseball.  I damn sure don’t want to be the worst, but if push comes to shove, and I’ve got other commitments, I make sure I’m better than the worst, but I’ll blow stuff off less than the worst.

  • http://www.troopzilla.com Oops I did it again…

    Mark,
    Definitely need to fire fast.  I have learned this the hard way.  Eggcellent post.  I started my company with 5 friends cause I knew they could all deal with me(hard charger, ultra aggressive, fiery…etc) I had to fire the CTO and I was supposed to be in his wedding.  It took way toooo long.

    Just got out of a meeting with the new development team re-energized.  My thought,”Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

    Great Post!

  • http://www.interpretllc.com Michael Dowling

    Mark, this is one of those pieces of advice that never seems to truly resonate until you’ve experienced a situation in which you didn’t fire fast enough. Speaking from personal experience, the repercussions of not firing fast enough can be felt long after the
    actual deed is done. Despite the flaming, this is a great message to continually reiterate to founders of start ups.

  • Anonymous

    Mark, I think there is a balance that is not fairly represented, not just here, but in most startup blogs that advocate JFDI, MVP, LEAN, etc. There is a lot of truthiness in these style of posts, but they are so out of context that they can be less than helpful.

    If you look at this post with your last post, there is no obvious connection b/t JFDI and building something huge. The answer is more like:
    - understand what you are trying to do
    - if it is something that is going to be huge, think through the frameworks of the business: the GtM stages, the narrative, the customer group oriority, the chokepints for growth, the culture of the company that will execute on the opportunity,etc. These  items must be very close to perfect – JFDI does not apply.
    - when you go, don’t be afraid to make mistakes

    This post applies right at the end of these three points. Not before, don’t you think, if you know you are building something very large.

    If you are doing a startup that does not deliver a new model to an entire industry, then fine, JFDI. But that is a startup, not a VC startup, IMHO.

  • http://twitter.com/webwright Tony Wright

    I freaking love this post– the semi-contrarian hire-fast bit especially.

    People overestimate their ability to get more information with more screening/interviews/reference checks, etc.  It’s an interesting exercise to scribble down a hire/no-hire decision after the first 5 minutes of chatting with a person and see how many times more data actually changes your mind.

    It’s a bummer to me that hiring has so much implicit commitment on day 1.  People need/want security when they take a job (especially if they are leaving one to take yours), but the ideal world allows for a “try before you buy” phase.

  • http://getessay.com/prices/ pay for essay

    interesting post) thanks)

  • http://twitter.com/MikePmalai Mike Pmalai

    Lets kick it up a notch. Mark you’ve been a proponent of being a single founder and “hiring” your co-founder(s).

    Do you hire fast, fire fast “hired” co-founders?

  • http://twitter.com/wfjackson3 Willis F Jackson III

    Wait, so what was the controversial part?  Was it supposed to be this:

    “I have never regretted firing anybody. Not once.”

    I am going to assume you classify that differently than laying people off.  Otherwise, the only reason you would regret it is if you were totally wrong about their performance.

  • Nishant

    Awesome post Mark.  

    I used to pride myself in hiring only the best when I chanced upon the lines in Ben Horowitz’ blog  - ‘your best employees usually do worst in interviews’ and that perfectly nailed it for me.  

    Looking back I realized that the ones who did best in interviews almost gave me a heart attack managing them and the ones whom I almost did not hire fought with me  in the shade when the arrows blotted out the sun.  

    There is no way to be sure, the only way out is to hire fast and fire faster.

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    Useful and timely information as usual. I shared and discussed with our team this morning. 

  • http://twitter.com/#!/wamatt Matthew Tagg

    Agree with fire fast. Putting it off is either weakness or indecisiveness.

    As for hiring fast, I’m not sure I agree.  The founders of a startup are crucial, go in with the wrong guys and you in for trouble. We put a lot of effort into ensuring great screening and it saves much more time than pump and dump.

    IMO You can do pump and dump with interns, but not high level staff. At least that is the situation here in South Africa where  labour unions and recruitment fee’s make “testing out” employees, very expensive.

  • Anonymous

    I have a simple test whenever I interview someone who claims that they were “a people manager” or want to be in my company.  I ask, “Tell me about a time you fired someone.”  I strike the “people manager” credential for anyone who has never fired anyone, but anyone who can’t answer with grace is also disqualified for being unable to build a decent culture.  As you say, Mark, when you know, you know… and firing someone with candor, and suggestions for what to do at his/her next company, is the right choice.

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Nice post… not what I thought it was going to be.

    Like the Horowitz reference re worse hire/best interview from @96e5b44450aa650ddd51835cad3f33d0:disqus 

    Feel at advantage due to the lesser need of employees – those that claim they’re doing something ‘big’ in AI with Biz Plan requiring 50+ employees post funding means their design isn’t going to deliver on prefunding claims.

    Better to contract out if you can and protect your IP. Otherwise, shoot for the best to run the different segments of the business.

  • Anonymous

    Mark, I’d add that the ethic flowing through both of your arguments is the need for candor in both directions, which is then supported by a reasonably clear vision/instinct of what the position is meant to be/meant to have been. 

    A great person is great when you meet them and is inappropriate for a position once they become inappropriate. It does no one any favors to keep someone on a team past the time that they belong in it. There’s an opportunity cost there, and it only risks the bottom line of the company and the loss of the ambitions and more appropriate opportunities owned by employee that ought to have been fired. 

    As an aside: I watch This Week in Venture Capital constantly, am a regular here (though this is my first post), have been part of a number of startups, and am now hoping to get in touch with you about an opportunity — not to be a VC, but an angel. I think you’re fucking awesome.

    I’m launching an education startup that will have a market everywhere [I can also prove traction] — I only go after the biggest problems, like when I almost launched backchannel negotiations between the US and Iran vis a vis India based on a policy platform I developed personally. 

    Please email me at joshmeah@gmail.com or theplatoreport@gmail.com. I’ll be posting again regularly — I can’t wait to hear from you. You’re going to love this! Seriously, I wouldn’t waste your time. As you’ve stated elsewhere — you prefer CEOs with a few developers behind them (got them). You want to see real, long-term huge problems solved (got it). Pleeease email me. 

    Best regards,

    Josh

  • http://www.forouzani.com Mohammad

    I don’t think ABR applies to very small startups – it’s better to stretch your seed capital, rather than increase your burn rate just because a good candidate comes along. For small startups – if you dont have a NEED, you shouldn’t be hiring.

  • Anonymous

    Mark,
    Nice post.  As an executive recruitment consultant, AKA a headhunter we focus on the hiring side.  If a CEO has no time to thoroughly cover the market in a concentrated effort to quickly hire, I recommend outsourcing it to a professional – an executive recruiter.  This will give the CEO the bandwidth to do their job, the job of the executive they need to hire and minimize their time spent recruiting by having the recruiter provide the service. Jeff Bussgang, General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners,  post on Seeing Both Sides http://bostonvcblog.typepad.com/vc/2011/04/hire-a-recruiternow.html these advantages to the start ups.   If I can be of any help to your readers, please have them contact me directly at mark@dynamicsynergy:twitter .com

    Mark J. Landay – Executive Recruiter
    Managing Director
    Dynamic Synergy

  • http://www.linkcloud.org Toni Wagner

    good post! I’ve been in the crazy situation with my startup here in germany: with state-funding that becomes an idependent stipend once people were “hired” the “fast hiring” became a pain as it tourned out that firing was impossible; there was neither a fast nor a slow option. I recommend test-working since and will stick to that forEVER …

  • Anonymous

    Great article.  I’ve been wrestling with the fire fast concept just this week.  You confirmed everything floating around in my head (or gut).  Time to bite the bullet.

    This gets really hard when it’s a friend.  I had to fire an old friend some time ago and now he won’t talk to me anymore.  So that makes me want to only hire total strangers…until a great person I know wants an opportunity (today).   So do I hire him fast?
     

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    Spot on, Daryn.

    The key to being able to hire fast is hiring with a high degree of awareness and operating in truth.  

  • http://blog.sixstringcpa.com Geoffrey

    RIGHTEOUS!

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    Mark, I always appreciate the astute insight you bring to the area of recruiting and hiring — which is my particular area of passion along with startups.  If you ever want to start a search firm together, I’m in.  

    Your thoughts on firing are inspired!  (Believe it or not recruiters know a lot about firing even though you wouldn’t think so.)

    The only thing I believe has been oversimplified here is the accurate information needed to make a good hire (loved the comment from  @daryn:disqus  below).  I’m not necessarily thinking of reams of information — and the need for “information” becomes less with a higher degree of awareness and alertness on the part of the hiring executive.  

    Hiring requires a high degree of “presence.”The more present (alert, aware, honest) you are, the  more likely you are going to know when you have found the right person.  

    I once wrote in a blog post that a lot of bad hires result not so much from hiring the wrong person but from misconceptions about the organization or even the job. In other words, make sure you have a realistic and honest understanding of the environment and the job you are hiring for. 

    If a CEO has a team, then already there is a valuable source of information available so long as team members feel that they can be blatantly honest.  I am always suspicious of a search that does not involve team feedback on the company’s environment and what it takes to succeed there. 

    BTW, I love that you keep promoting the idea of hiring the right person regardless of whether or not there is a job.  Have you ever done this?

  • http://stonebusinesslaw.com Ethan Stone

    Good post.  Good advice.
     
    I have nothing to add to the discussion of hiring and firing, but I’d like to add a thought on making imperfect decisions.  Mark is right that it’s important to be able to act decisively with less than perfect information and analysis.  Actually, it’s equally important for the business success of larger more established businesses, but once a bureaucracy has grown up (as it needs to in a large organization), acting decisively in the face of uncertainty can be against the personal interests (driven by CYA) of all of the individuals involved.

    One caution is that you have to distinguish between situations in which you’re facing an irreducible level of uncertainty (in Frank Knight’s use of the term) and situations in which you don’t have some important and knowable information.  In the first situation, there’s almost never a benefit to putting off a decision, unless you’re going to have to justify yourself if everything goes wrong.  As Gladwell and a lot of research has pointed out, your first instinct is probably right.  Sleep on it (literally) if you think that helps your decisionmaking, but don’t put it off.  Uncertainty is uncertainty.  It won’t get any better.  In the second situation, you need to think about how much time and money it’s going to take to get the missing information before you decide without it.  If the information is theoretically knowable but getting it is impractical, then JFDI.  But if you’re a naturally decisive and self-confident person (i.e. a good entrepreneur), you should always be trying to correct against a tendency towards overconfidence in these situations.

    I see this a lot as a lawyer.  People have notions about IP, governance, securities law and other legal topics.  They could check in with someone who actually knows, but they don’t.  Partially, this is driven by false economy, but I think it’s often driven by simple overconfidence:  “I know how to get things done and that’s what’s important now.  The lawyers can always come in and ‘paper the details’ later.”  I know Mark agrees because he’s posted about it (http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/01/21/how-to-work-with-lawyers-at-a-startup/).  It’s not just a lawyer gripe, though.  I’ve seen people make assumptions about their markets that they could easily have determined were false but never bothered to check by talking for five minutes to someone who actually knew.  In fact, I made one of those calls last week:  The first instinct turned out to be demonstrably wrong, not because the instinct was bad but because it was ill-informed.

    So if you have to decide now, decide.  But part of not looking back is knowing what you were skipping along the way.

  • guest

    Mark,

    Thanks for nice post. However, I really don’t like your idea of hiring fast and firing fast. You might feel a company is good if they make one good product. However, thats not true. Company is great by people. If you keep this type of culture no one will feel secure and in so much competitive environment u will miss out of many slow starters who are really good. 

    You need to make a really good team and sometime its good to give sometime. For startup giving time might not be possible so they can do one thing is to Hire with their culture fit. 

    I don’t think it makes a good company when you hire and fire so quickly. Taking decision is other part. I personally feel you are missing some part when you combine decision making with hiring. 

    I have worked with some nice people and companies and believe me for employees to work they need to feel good. They are not robots. I feel your VC culture is making you feel like this. Being on the other side will help you a lot. 

    I like someone idea below when they said hire as intern. It is good idea. Its not always about legal and money. I want to open my startup but want to do that so that I can give Job to others like Ajit Balakrishnan and other people did for India, not for money. 

  • Shivku

    There is a fundamental flaw in your argument: You use “blink” to hire fast & use the same “blink” to fire fast? Maybe you could “blink” & not bother people at all. 

  • http://what-are-my-options.blogspot.com/ the99th

    Great post Mark!

    If you can get someone talented willing to stay up until 1am on a Monday morning to deliver something for perhaps some cash, to be decent, but at a discount rate on the promise of equity, when they have their dayjob to go to in 9 hours minus sleep, and the work is phenomenal, and they show enthusiasm, I’d say the pass with flying colors.

    I have never lamented times where I was not hired, when a job term ended, or quiting a job. I learned that quiting a good job that was not my own start-up was the best achievement I could make in a company. You have to approach the job spiritually, as a quest to become a higher level individual, and then peace out.

    I have also never regretted firi.g peiple

  • http://profiles.google.com/mvg210 Mike Gnanakone

    Do early startup employees get a severance package?

    Also, when do a VC have a right to fire a founder/CEO?

  • http://twitter.com/scottuhrig Scott Uhrig

    Blink is a great book, and your Blink approach to hiring has some merit.  But, if you recall Chapter 5, Gladwell asserts that people often make the wrong quick decisions if they are being asked to decide something outside their area of expertise.  If you are an experienced CEO who has hired hundreds of people, your snap judgements probably have some validity.  If you are a first time CEO, you need more than your intuition.

  • Anonymous

    Is hiring on a contract basis for 1-month a bad idea before you hire someone.  I guess this would not address the fact that most good people currently have a job.  

    Your point is taken.  Once you know.  You know.  

  • http://twitter.com/davidhhendricks Dave Hendricks

    My mantra on this topic is very simple: producers stay, anchors away.

    Anyone who is making things happen, producing value, you find a way to keep.

    Anyone who is an anchor (in the anvil- around-neck sense) needs to go away.

    I have never regretted firing many people, but not all – especially when it was our fault and we fired because *we* didn’t execute.

  • http://declandunn.com Declan Dunn

    Hire slowly is for people with time and no sense of urgency. Sometimes you get waves of great people, other times the quality is so-s0; hire and adapt to what you’ve got is my approach.

    I always hired people on a temp to perm basis, not as a contractor, but as a challenge; earn this position, you get the benefits, jump in and prove yourself…and in return, I’ll prove myself to you as a boss. In 30 days we’ll review, if we’re both happy, you’ll stay on.

    One thing I so agree with you in this post is that I have never regretted firing anyone. It’s the health of your company, and most often people know, including other employees, that something is wrong, we all pick it up.

    I once had to fire a slew of people in a startup, told them straight what was up, and some people got nervous around me. 3 months later when the shop was running great and the employee vibe had picked up, they all realized it was for the better.

    If you’re a CEO, it’s your job to decide…right or wrong, that’s what you are there for…and firing is just part of the process, and like a doctor, you should be eliminating what’s toxic and improving what’s healthy.

  • J Armada

    I agree with you completely though sometimes it seems that business men are born not made. Not everyone has that knack to visualize innovations in business and the sense to take on the gambles that are worth’gambling on’.

    J Armada @ seminar tables

  • Rudy Lacovara

    I don’t see many flames so firing fast might not be all that controversial here.  I think of firing an employee as my failure just as much as the employee’s.  I’m the one who hired them after all.  With that said I try to correct my mistakes as fast as possible. 

    I once fired an employee on his first day.  He was great in the interview, very smart, easily the top applicant.  We hired him and another guy from the same previous employer.  He immediately started harassing and ridiculing this other guy. It was like junior high.  He also refused to pay any attention to his supervisor (who was younger than him and a woman) during his training and sat playing with his phone instead.  We figured if he was acting like that on his first day there was no point in keeping him around to see how much worse things could get.  I fired him that afternoon.

    No regrets.  Firing him demonstrated to his supervisor that we would back her up when needed.  The other guy from the same company went on to become one of our most loyal and productive employees.  Also, when we cleaned this guy’s computer we found that he’d installed a chat program and had been trying to organize a threesome when he was supposed to be working.  No loss there.

    -rudy

  • http://www.toddysm.com toddysm

    Daryn, I don’t think there is such a big admin overhead for hiring in a startup (unless the startup itself decides to make it big). Recently I learned about a research showing that only the first 5 mins
    of the interview matter – most of the interviewers spend the rest of the
    interview confirming their impression for the person. In big companies we feel obligated to “fill in the hour”, and it will be “impolite” to cut the interview after 15 mins but I don’t see why this should be the case for startups.
    You are right about the cultural part – it can have some impact but not lethal if you detect it fast and react fast (ie fire).

  • http://twitter.com/bcrimmins Bob Crimmins

    My .02 is that the “slowly” part of the “hire slowly….” mantra should be the
    decision to add head count in the first place.  Once you’ve decided to
    expand the team then by all means find and hire good people as fast as
    f-ing possible and I like your suggestions on how to think (and not over think) about what’s a good fit.  But the decision to scale the team (whether that’s one
    new hire or a hundred) is better done only when you’re feeling some pain from being under-staffed.  I can’t think of anything we wasted more money and effort on in my previous startups than hiring for the need that we thought we were going to have soon because we were about to break out.  It’s a serious startup killer for sure.  Lesson learned.

    The “fire fast” part we are in complete agreement on and I appreciate your professional and (I would say) your humane approach to letting people go away and find a place that’s a good fit for them — they deserve that.

  • http://www.piqqle.com/blog/ Daniel Kim

    This would not work for employees that are currently working, or employees at other startups that have shares and vesting interest in those firms. ABR and Gut fast hiring are the two big take aways for me from another solid post by Mark.  Always be on the look out for new talent, network for new talent so an acquaintance that is at another conference a few weeks later speaks to a great talent refers that great talent to your firm.  Then hire them fast if the gut feeling is right. 

    Firing too fast is tough. If they are terrible, I agree with this mantra and especially if there is a bad first impression.  If the person has been with the firm for 6 months at least and assuming no “talk” has been made on the lack of performance, then I think the talk should take place and what needs to be done to be on level with expected performance.  I think that is a sign of respect, but that talk should happen right away so the problem does not linger for long.