A shortened, better edited and with nicer pictures version of this post first appeared on TechCrunch. But if you want it in it’s full V1 glory read on …
You’ve never been a CEO but might like to be one some day. But how? Nobody sees you as a CEO since you’ve never been one? I wrote this conundrum and the need to take charge of how the market define your skills in my much-read blog post on “personal branding.” If you don’t create the message about yourself, the market will. And if you want to be a CEO one day you need the messaging to reflect that.
The strange thing is that once you’ve been a CEO even one time the market will see always see you as a CEO but nobody really wants to give a new-comer chance.
Of course you could start your own company. For many people that’s the right answer. As I talked about in “Is it Time to Learn or Time to Earn” – overwhelmingly the best economics go to those that start successful companies. But not everybody has the right skills to build a highly successful and valuable startup from scratch. In fact, I would argue that most people don’t.
The decision tree for being a startup CEO begins with whether you can sustain 12-18 months of little or no salary while you define your market, do research, build v1 of your product, raise seed funding, attract your initial team, get your first customers and test whether you have initial product / market fit or enough momentum to be able to raise a large round of capital.
Recruiting. It is the bane of every startups existence because it takes up so much time, it is so competitive to sign people and it feels like unproductive time because it’s not moving the ball forward on product, engineering, sales, marketing, biz dev, fund raising. It consumes time and energy and the payoff doesn’t come for a long time.
But of course great teams build great companies and great startup leaders know that they must always be recruiting.
Yet most startup companies I’ve ever worked with or observed make one crucial mistake: They assume that their recruitment process for a candidate is over when that person accepts his or her offer. The truth is the process isn’t over until after the employee starts with the company, updates her LinkedIn profile and emails all her friends.
In fact, it’s worse than that. The moment your future head of sales, marketing, product or even junior developer says “yes” is the moment you’re most vulnerable of losing them. I’ve written about this before relating to any sales process –
One of the interesting things about being a VC is that you often see companies in transition. If you’re an early investor like I am that often means writing the first $2-3 million check into a business that previously had either survived on fumes or on a $500,000 angel round.
I also see companies as they move from having taken $1-5 million from me to their next round where they raise $8-15 million from Series B investors and sometimes I lead at this round (we’re stage agnostic but 80% of our deals are seed & A).
Moving from a company that had less resources (and presumably by the time they’re raising depleted resources) to a company with newfound resources can be telling.
I have seen many companies raise their first $3 million and still act like a company that has no resources at all. And while this might sound to the inexperienced person like a sensible idea – it is not. In a VC business when you raise additional capital you need to “level up” and act the round you are.
Of course I’m not preaching crazy, irrational spend or having Kid Rock at your next company party. But you do need to find a way to do activities that are more scalable.
Almost every startup company starts off “scrappy” and there’s a well established culture in the tech startup scene to embrace the “be cheap at all costs” mentality.
So we have the proverbial garage startup or the small team working on desks that are handmade out of scrap wood or former doors from a construction site. But at what point do you need to flip from scrappy to “scale-y”? Um, well, that word choice doesn’t exactly work.
I have seen this problem up close so many times. You have a seed-stage company who had raised $500,000 and then later raises $8 million still acting like a seed-stage startup. Similarly you have the A-round company who has raised a $25 million round still behaving like a 10-person startup with the CEO still micro-managing every decision.
I have weighed in on this topic before. I wrote that the most controversial hire after an A-round is actually an office manager / admin person for the company. My rationale is simply.
One of the unavoidable realities of building a startup is having to fire people.
In a normal business you can often sweep bad performers under the rug and not deal with them. When you have millions or billions of dollars of revenue you can suffer a few bad performers or bad apples. You can miss a quarter’s target and not cull the inefficiencies. I’m not saying you should, but you could.
But in startups this equals death.
Death because just 3 extra non-performing employees in a company of 15 can either accelerate cash out date or can dramatically lower your productivity.
I’ve spoken about this before and my mantra, “Hire Fast, Fire Fast.”
When I first started my career I came across a term for this that has always stuck in my head and serves as a useful reminder of this mantra.
We called it “PURE.”
Previously. Undetected. Recruiting. Error.
My premise with “hire fast, fire fast” is that some companies over-analyze potential recruits and therefore chew up valuable months with functions unfilled.
For the past 5 years or so Google, Facebook and a handful of tech industry giants have been quietly buying scores of early-stage startups for their talent. And to keep up with the Jones’s it seems that Yahoo! has now employed the same strategy.
And who cares, right?
A couple of tech giants throw millions around in either cash (for which they have hoards) or part with some publicly traded stock. And a few teams of super talented, educated and bright entrepreneurs make a few mill. in their 20’s. What could be more capitalist than that?
It has even gone so far that we now have evocative headlines in the tech press such as “Buy or Die,” which is what got me thinking about this post.
We’ve been here before – trust me. Every era has its own amnesia for M&A gone wild.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not some big tragedy on a grand scale.