So I week or so I tweet out that I was looking for a receptionist. Entry level college grad was the gist of it. I got four potentials on short order but I also got a few questions. College grad to be a receptionist? Really?
While I am looking for a receptionist, and about five other gigs for that matter, it is really a bit more than that. I am looking for smart people that can grow and contribute in a startup environment. Two of the things it takes to do so is smarts and drive. Rightly or wrongly having the gumption to go get yourself a degree can serve as an indicator of those two things. It's a screen. A proxy of some sort. It is why Google only hires from top tier universities.
A gotta add that one of the people that questioned me is one of the smartest technologists that I know. A Georiga Tech drop out to play CTO for a hyper growth startup. About four successful ones at this point. Sometimes a degree just slows you down.
Not to long ago a nice article (regardless of the title) made its way to my inbox. It was called "Three Types of People to Fire Immediately" by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton. It kicked off with this:
“I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.”
—A very successful CEO (who asked not to be named)
Lots of detail in the article but the gist of it is if you have tried to change people and they won't adapt they need to go away. Below are the three types of people to fire immediately.
1. The Victims; people looking for problems not opportunities.
2. The Nonbelievers; the difference between winning and losing is desire.
3. The Know It Alls; they will snuff out any sparks of change.
While the job of management is to improve people's performance sometimes they just won't change. You don't want these types of people in your organization. They will stifle innovation and growth.
So one of the things that I am doing these days is having at least one breakfast/lunch/drink a week with an advisor/business partner/friend/mentor to catch up and talk about what is going on in our day to day worlds. It's just so easy to get too heads down and overly involved in a startup. I am sure that I am not alone in my tendency to do that. Startups can be all consuming. So it's good to get out and hear some fresh perspective.
I was recently having such a lunch. Part of the conversation went like this.
Me: "So I went and talked to the devs..."
She (interrupting): "Always talk to the devs, they know everything that is going on."
True. The geeky guys (and much more often than not they are guys) somehow or the other seem to know everything that is going on in the company. Kinda surprising from a bunch of staring at screens and not talking much dudes, but I have seen it in startup after startup.
Interesting article over on the 37signals blog on why they don't hire programmers based on puzzles or math riddles got me to thinking about how I hire sales people. I have been a little hesitant to write about this as it could potentially change the entire game for anyone bright enough to do a little research and read this blog.
But the gist of it is that I hire sales people that can close me on their ability to close. People that can take me down the sales process. Ask probing questions to determine needs, take control of the meeting, talk about how their skills and experience will meet the needs they uncovered, throw in some trial closes, and ask for the order (in this case the job). Over the past seven months or so I have interviewed hundreds of sales people. Less than a 20 have asked for the order. Half that amount actually led me through the sales process on their ability to do the job.
If sales people can't sell and close you on their ability to do the job there is no way they can actually do it. Don't hire them. Hire closers. And if appropriate ask for their previous years W2s. They are sales people, not everything they say will be 100% true.
So October turned out to be another record month for Half Off Depot. Our more established markets showed some nice growth and our expansion markets came up to speed nicely, most of them exceeding rather aggressive growth plans.
But this week I had to let two people go. That's always tough to do. Hard saddening decisions. Every time a team member fails to perform to expectation disappointment abounds. While I am sure the folks departing will rebound nicely it is a major life occurrence. Something that they will always remember. It is something that I will always remember as well. Because regardless of the reason when somebody does not perform to expectation it is always a bit the fault of leadership. You hired the wrong person, did not manage them well, or did not provide them with the attention and support they needed to succeed. It hurts.
But in a startup people really do need to make their own way. They have to figure it out. There is not a lot of time for counseling or nurturing.
As a leader you have to do what is best for the company. Startups are leaving breathing things. For a startup the size of Half Off letting go two people is akin to cutting off 4% of your body. It's like losing the use of a hand or a foot. But it will heal. The scars will go away. We will be stronger for the challenge.
We have been looking for a community manager to join Half Off Depot for sometime. The basic plan was to have introductory meetings and then move forward with second interviews where the candidates would provide an overview of what they would do if given the job. Best plan gets to execute kind of thing.
I had a good first meeting with a woman who I will call Brigette, mainly because that is her real name. We setup the follow up meeting on the spot. I was a little worried about the timing of it and mentioned this to her. More than once. She said she was in. And then she cancelled. She had a reason. It did not matter. I blew her up. She was no longer a candidate. A commitment with care thing. This was back in June.
Mid July Brigette sent me this note.
I attended a social media meeting recently, which underlined two key qualities of a good community manager: being brave and being persistent. I figured it was the universe's way of telling me to send you the deck I created for the Half Off Depot Community Manager position.
If you haven't hired anyone yet, I'm still interested and enthusiastic ... and to prove it, here's the first Half of my deck. The rest, I'd like to show you in person.
Here's the deck. To add a little context to the title slide Mr. Livewell is our mascot.
I wanted the full story. She earned herself another shot. Brigette starts at Half Off this week. I think she is going to be a great.
So we are hiring a lot of folks at Half Off. It's all across the board. Accounting, customer service, development, marketing, and sales. Our company wiki has 36 people in the directory now, but I suspect we have more then 40. And from time to time we do a little cross department interviewing.
Such was the case when James Nail came to me and asked me to interview one of the more semi-technical online marketing experts we were looking to bring on. I assumed that if James liked the person they had the specific skill set needed to fill the role. As I agreed to interview her I asked if it would be ok to do so while building the conference table in the room affectionately known as The Microwave. The Microwave gets a little hot in the afternoon. And the afternoon it was when I met and escorted this new recruit and introduced her to the task at hand.
It was a team building exercise. In The Microwave. We worked together well. She actually read the instructions, told me what to do, and lent a hand in the assembly as I asked her a bit about her background. After about 45 minutes of this I told her I really did not have any more questions. I also told her she was free to go if she wanted. Then after a noticeable pause added "or that could be the real test of this interview."
It was. She passed the test. She stayed and finished the conference room table together. We hired her. And she and I are going to autograph that table one day with a Sharpie.
I am a member of the Jason Nation and over on the Launch blog Mr. C has a nice article. The overall post itself is about management misdirecting employees. While I don't always agree with everything Jason says or does he nails the startup sales equation.
Dealing with a rabid pack of sales wolves is perhaps one of the hardest management challenges in business.
Sales people are an odd group of mercenaries, and the best ones seem to have a perverse sense of competition and drive that is unique in the employment landscape. They are very aware of incentive structures and seem to love being put in them.
They like having a percentage of sales targets to hit, and levels and bonuses associated with certain milestones. The more complicated a structure and game, the more turned on and tuned in they seem to become.
Great sales folks seem to look at life as this huge casino or Zynga game, where they are placing 20 bets on five different tables.
I've long learned to embrace this dynamic at new companies by setting
a) absurdly low base salaries (think $30K to 60K)
b) absurdly high commission structures (10% to 25%)
It's a filtering mechanism for me to get the most insane, rabid and self-confident sales folks -- and filter out the lame "professionals." The times I've put up six-figure bases and the standard 3% to 5% commission structures, I've gotten the weakest, non-rabid, meek sales executives who are more concerned with driving almost fancy cars, wearing fine clothing and having lush expense accounts than their actual commission structure.
Those sales folks are death at startups. They lack the drive and creativity to sell new products because they are -- largely -- old, fat dogs.
At some big company with 300 sales folks, they're great for managing existing accounts. At a small company with under 10 sales folks, those "professional" sales types are the kiss of death. They need everything handed to them on a silver platter, and they can't close deals because of the product, the marketing kit or the fact that we're doing something new.
In fact, two sales folks I gave the low-base-and-high-commission structure to easily broke $500K in *commissions* for me in the first two years of the Silicon Alley Reporter and Weblogs Inc.
They both made fives times what I made as CEO -- and I loved it.
Part of a email to everyone at Half Off Depot, a growth phase startup where I work.
Here is my offering for the day. This one pertains to the lesson of General George W. Patton, and I'll call it: "Don't be a jackass!"
To paraphrase one of Patton's standing orders, he told his troops, "I never want to hear that we're holding our lines. We will be moving forward at all times."
Well, soon enough, his army was in battle and on the march. Suddenly, it came to a grinding halt.
Frustrated, Patton ordered his driver to take him to the front of the column to see what was holding them up. When he arrived, he found that the troops and all their tanks and vehicles had been stopped dead in their tracks by a peasant's donkey and cart that were blocking a one-lane bridge. To his utter disbelief, Patton found that several of his men were struggling with the donkey, trying to get it to move. Without hesitation, he drew his pistol, shot the donkey and had his men throw it over the bridge.
As a General responsible for the lives of thousands of men and tasked with winning a war against an evil foe, Patton knew that he did not have one minute to spare.
How does this pertain to us? We will be moving forward at all times. Don't be a jackass.
Pretty good story if you ask me. I for one will indeed be moving forward at all times.
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