The Ideal Employee

Often when I get the chance to speak to a group of students, someone invariably asks me to describe the ideal employee. What are the traits of a prosepective new hire that I look for, and would give them the best chance of success?

In the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni, he describes the ideal team player as Hungy, Humble and Smart.  That’s my North Star when hiring people.  I’m sure that these traits are critical in any organization of any size, but they are particularly important in early stage companies, when every hire has an oversized impact on the companies performance and culture.

It’s worth spending some time on this concept.  Too many hiring managers are focused on specific skills and past accomplishments at the expense of these core characteristics, I’ve seen far too many times that oversight resulting in failure and far reaching impact on the organization.

Believe in the mission, not the path

This morning I saw this advice in a tweet:

Founders, don’t be married to what you’re building today, because it won’t be what u ultimately build.

I think this is very bad advice, and gets to the core of what’s wrong with entrepreneurship advice in general.  Entrepreneurship is a really hard path, requiring a ton of dedication, hard work, often over many years.  If you don’t have a deep commitment to the mission of your effort, to the problem you are solving, you’ll fold as soon as you hit a speed bump.

The right advice is that you should have true passion for the problem you are trying to solve.  You should have a deeply held believe that there is a gap in the marketplace that you can fill in a way that others can’t.

You should not be committed to the path to fulfill that mission.

Your path will twist and turn, and you will hit many dead ends, have to back track, and find another route.  Many of your assumptions will be wrong.  Your experiments will fail.  Your business will build slower than you thought. But the North Star of your mission should remain resolute.

With one rare exception.  You may come to a time when you find that your original assumptions around the opportunity were genuinely wrong.  Maybe competitors moved faster.  Maybe you didn’t have the right answer, and you now see that you aren’t well positioned to address the opportunity you saw.  Perhaps you didn’t understand the marketplace as well as you thought, and the opportunity never really existed at all.

That can lead to the infamous Pivot.  And a Pivot can be fine, when Pivoting to another opportunity you are deeply committed to.

But don’t go into your startup expecting to Pivot.  Go into it expecting to have to adjust your path regularly on your way to fulfilling your mission.  There is a huge difference between the two.  The advice in that tweet above missed that point entirely.

My Principles of Entrepreneurship

There is no shortage of advice on what it takes to successfully build a business.  But I’ve seen enough bad advice to compel to me get my own thoughts down.  I’m sure this will be a post that evolves over time.  And each of these principles will eventually have it’s own post, so I can expand on the concepts.  With that, here are my thoughts on essential principles of entrepreneurship.

Believe in the mission, not the path

Set short term milestones. Keep your eye on your cash runway.  Prioritize execution against your financial and strategic plan.  Set quarterly, semi annual and annual milestones.  You’ll be surprised at how fast time goes by when you’re head down building your business.  You need to set guideposts so that you can pick your head and see if you are on track, or if you need to make adjustments.  Experiment.  Try new ideas, test hypothesis, discard your failures and lean into your successes.  ‘Move fast and break things’ is a valuable mantra in your early years.  ‘Just ship it’ should be on your wall.  It doesn’t mean you should race to release shitty products and piss off your customers.  It means that 50% of what you think your product should be is probably wrong, and the faster you validate your assumptions, the quicker you will get to Product Market Fit.  Which leads to…

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