This is the perennial question for startups who have started to taste success, and are ready to invest in themselves in the form of new helping hands.
The question is: How do you decide what role is most important to hire for?
Founders typically revert to whatever they’re already expert in, and decide they need more of that. So, a technical founder decides she needs another developer, or a sales-oriented founder decides she needs another sales person.
Let’s highlight the underlying justification you’ll use to rationalize this probably-erroneous decision, so we can see how to avoid the fallacy. Here’s what you’re thinking:
“I’m doing X today, which means I’m not able to work on Y and Z, which are also very important. If I hire someone to do X, I’ll have time for Y and Z.
“Furthermore, because I’m an expert at X, I already know how to source and interview other people who can be excellent at X, and I know how to hold them accountable after the fact. So this is a plan I know how to execute.”
It’s true, you do know how to execute this plan. Unfortunately, doing what’s easiest for the founder is not necessarily what’s best for the company.
The fallacy is this: Your plan causes you to be removed from your position of strength, in order to work inside your area of weakness.
That’s bad for the company, because it’s sub-optimal for the things you’re weak at, and it’s bad for you, because you’ll be unhappy working on things you’re not naturally good at, producing results you yourself know is sub-par.
Wouldn’t it be wiser for those things to be executed by people who are as amazing at those things as you are at your things?
Instead, your process should be:
1. Identify what role is missing from the company today, which also is the most vital for (your definition of) success over the next 12 months. (“Success” could mean revenue growth, great customer service, removing a large risk, or a dozen other things.)
2. Hire the best person for that role.
How to determine (1)? For all possible roles, think of the perfect person for the job — a person so amazing you could never recruit them. Then ask whether the addition of that person would solve your #1 problem, or address your #1 risk, or 10x your revenue quickly, or whatever your current primary goal is.
You hire the VP of Engineering for Facebook. Now you can scale anything — both computers and people — inside your engineering department. Does that 10x the company or create a feature so important that you win your market? (Hint: If you’re not already in the scaling phase, well beyond product/market fit, the answer is: No.)
You hire the CMO who joined their current company when it was close to your current size, and built it to a company with $200m in revenue; they’ve seen the entire journey. If you could add that wisdom and firepower now would that 10x your company in the next year?
You hire a super-effective VP of Sales, would that 10x sales in the next 12 months? (If product/market fit is truly achieved, and your price-point isn’t low, the answer can be “yes,” but if you haven’t already gotten hundreds or thousands of paying customers, with a solid, effective, repeatable sales pitch, this person might not move the needle.)
You hire a Director of Support who has scaled teams from zero to hundreds, and has won global awards for excellence in customer service. If you created a truly world-class support organization, would that cause customers to flock to your door, or cause retention to skyrocket? Would that effect be larger than the next three features you could implement, or achieving similar excellence in marketing and sales?
You could keep going with other roles — design, content-marketing, finance, data analysis, social media, biz dev, etc..
Typically, one of these is a clear winner. That’s the role you need most today.
Even if you can’t hire your “dream person,” you’ve defined what the role entails, and create a list of titles and companies where the perfect person might be working today, which is a great way to start actually looking for that person. For example, use LinkedIn and reach out directly, or asking your network with pointed and specific idea of what pattern you’re trying to match.
Is it really worth all this to get the best person for that role? Click that link if you want the answer; I’ve written about it previously.
As the founder or CEO, your job is to fill the company with people who will 10x the company in their role, not to take the easiest path for yourself, hiring the person you’re sure you’re capable of hiring and directing.
It’s hard to accept that, but once you do, you’re acting like a real CEO, and your future self will thank you for it.