covering all things Sales, Marketing, product management and going global. Content taken directly from our jams and delivered in bite sized learning chunks.
It doesn’t take much scrolling through a LinkedIn newsfeed before you will stumble across an image proclaiming something along the lines of “skills can be learnt, but character is built over time.” While it is an absolute cliche, it’s also rooted in reality. Kiwi Landing Pad is all about growing the potential of New Zealand businesses as they look to expand into the American market. A big part of that is about finding the right people - especially when you are in the early stages of a startup when money is tight and the team is small. At that point it’s essential that you’re hiring people with a good character and an intrinsic motivation to learn, work and improve their skills. In the words of Mark Suster “team is the only thing that matters.”
Let’s take a few (unfortunately not too hypothetical) examples of where this can go wrong. Imagine you’ve just hired a top developer to build out your product; they have the skills you need and the qualifications to boot, but six months down the track they’re out the door because they’ve just taken a better salary (here’s an extreme example). Or one of your first sales hires has a chronic problem with excuses and is slowing down your sales team. This can be fixed by hiring two sales reps rather than one when you start selling - this is something we’ve covered multiple times in our Sales and Marketing Jams. Now you’re 6-12 months down the track, running low on funding and the product isn’t working or you have 3 customers (or maybe even both). These aren’t good problems to have.
One of the ways that we’ve seen companies get around this problem is by taking a ‘hiring for character’ recruitment strategy. This means looking for people who are responsible, have empathy as well as an inner drive to do their very best at their job. Sure they want to shine, but they are interested in doing it in the ‘right way.’ They take a longer term view of things, continually learning and work with a wider sense of purpose because they can align your vision of the future with their values. One of the interesting side notes to living to San Francisco is the dismissive attitude towards the “perks” that technology companies offer - there are a lot of people who don’t really care about the food that comes with working at Google, especially after you factor in the hour long commute either way.
Hiring for character often involves a few deliberate choices that ensure you bring on “missionaries” who share your vision and see work in a startup as a way to fast-track their careers, rather than “mercenaries” who are focused on making money and grabbing as many stock options as possible. Borrowing from Mark Suster - one of the best ways you can avoid mercenaries (and a whole lot of other issues) is by hiring people who are a weight class lower than they want to be. These are people who are good at what they do, but want to take the next step and basically don’t have the required years of experience needed to match their title. While startups are seen as the hot thing to be in right now, they are a hell of a lot of hard work. There is also a cultural difference between startups and established companies - a senior salesperson from a name brand company who is fed qualified leads is going to have vastly different set of expectations (and is probably less likely to work out) than a more junior salesperson who’s used to hunting their own deals and doesn’t stand behind an instantly recognisable logo. Someone who hasn’t done it all before (and therefore has an opinion on everything) is also much more likely to learning from their mistakes rather than blaming it on the executive leadership or other external factors.
While one cost effective way of upskilling staff members can be through online training, one of the major advantages of working in a startup is the freedom to be a jack or jill of all trades, working on a diverse projects that may or may not be part of your job description. Having a relatively flat management structure, being agile and constantly having to figure your way around problems without much money are all part and parcel of working in a startup. We advise against taking a straight jacket approach to hiring for skills - a positive attitude and an appetite for learning is a lot more helpful than a straight A+ academic transcript when you need someone who is going to have to figure things out for themselves. The other downside to a straight jacket approach is that you essentially mimic a big corporation, minus the certainty, prestige and defined advancement opportunities.
Hiring for character starts at the interview process - it means you need to be talking about what values your company holds as well as what your mission and vision is. Looking past the skills they’ve put down on their resume you want to find out why candidates want to work with you. Get to know them as people - after all, if they’re any good you’ll be spending an enormous amount of time with them.
An event series and online resource dedicated to supporting the New Zealand ecosystems development in Sales, Marketing and Product Management.