Startup Honesty

Old school, and still cool, business coach Brain Tracy has an important question we should ask ourselves:

“What type of company, would my company be, if everyone in it, were just like me?”

Now, on the face of it it seems like a simple prose. How hard do we work, what kind of effort do we put in, how do we treat people and would we like others to behave the way we do. Honest answers to this question can be revealing. And it’s a damn good question to ask ourselves frequently.

But it goes one layer deeper. When we bring in new people to our startup, do we really need more people like ourselves? Do we really want another person who thinks like we do, acts like we do, has the same skills that we do and approaches things in the same manner? Or do we really need someone who is juxtaposed to ourselves?

The real challenge here is knowing where the similarities and differences are needed. And while that is a decision that only the startup founder can decide here’s a nice starting point: Alignment of philosophy and attitude is far more important than that of capability and aptitude.


The successful company lie

When anyone is looking for a new job, the company they worked for starts to matter more than ever. Society seems to have a default position to want to employ people who come from big name companies. When assessing potential employees the first thing we look at is where they have worked before. The thinking being that if they have worked for a successful company, then they are part of that success. A contributor, someone who knows how to win, someone who has already been vetted, if you will. But what if the opposite of that was true?

What if this employee from the successful company was hiding inside the deep and wide corporate infrastructure?

What is this employee was riding the wave of the hard work already done by those who came before them?

What if they were claiming the work of projects with a zillion participants?

What if they were better at internal company politics, than actually creating any true market value?

What if they never had the freedom of independent decisions and never actually did anything, and but worse, never made any mistakes either?

When we start to ask some of the question above (and there are many more) we start to see how flawed the ‘successful company mantra’ is. In real terms they’re the easiest place to ride career coat tails. Maybe we should instead be looking for people who’ve worked at crappy companies with poor reputations. Those struggling to stay alive, the fringe dwellers, or even those that failed. The irony is not lost on me that startup land reveres and respects failure, as a key learning mechanism, yet recruiters only ever what to employ people who came from a stable of success.

We need to think back to some of the best lessons we’ve had in our lives. Forget the corporate crap for a second and just consider the art of learning. We’ll find that mistakes are key. That when the scars run deep so do the lessons. When things go very wrong, we vow never to do it again and have the personal experience to know when to change course. We know the warning signs and what to look for. We spot the problems much quicker. Surely the same is true for where we work. We’ve all had superiors who just don’t get it. Bad bosses who taught us more about leadership than the good folk we worked for. And we’ve all seen ‘what not to do’ by working somewhere that consistently stuffs things up.

Success breads success? Well I’ve worked in some of the worlds most successful companies, I can tell you that they are often still filled with chickens, they are never an eagles only zone. Mind you, with size everything mathematically gravitates towards average – eventually. It’s a physical fact. So the larger the organisation, by definition the larger number of average employees it has. The real question isn’t if large company X has a better calibre employee than small company Y, the real question is what filter bubbles are we letting hide great people from us?