Startups, Fire the Middleman When They Can’t Lead

This was my guest post published on http://www.nextbigwhat.com/

After 35th hiring and 5+ years of working in Startup to hire best people to work with, I have came to realise a small puzzle which makes hiring work! Let me share few of hiring failures and success with you.

During 2008, while interview for first few engineers, one gentleman walked in to the interview room. He have had already 1.5 yrs  of working experience  using JAVA technology (you know how software engineers love Java as it feels high end and gives lot of bucks :).We had few lines of conversation, we didn’t even have proper chairs in office that time, it was just the 1st week of start.

I asked him, why would you want to work with us?

a. We are not using Java, we use PHP!

b. There are no senior people to work with (as I myself won’t be coding), so you can’t learn much from me.

c. We don’t know where the world will head, as we are going to try one after another

But he was determined to join as he had heard from his friends whom I had trained (for my 2nd startup) remotely being in London on how to code “the best ways”, make module approach and keep things clean, few other such bits. Plus the openness I operate with.

He stayed with us for 3 yrs and was instrumental in building up the ground work in Explara. He is the person whom I can trust and I dint have to check what time he is coming to office & going. He would get things done. (All this while team was operating in Pune and I was living in London)

During 2010-2012, we hired few sales guy, one or two of them have had huge connections in event industry, sharp mind and if they want they could network and get you any customer you want! When they joined, we assumed that this is a perfect match, let’s go ahead. We did our own assessment and found ok to fit.

Result : Several of them failed for  simple reason : They were operating by taking a middleman i.e. you tell me what to do, let me ask customer what (s)he wants, if it matches, job is done. Soon, we realised that this middleman posing is the big flaw in our hiring.

We let such middleman go.

But some middleman grow to become frontman!

During 2008-2009, another gentleman  walked-in to our office one day to ask for donation for a charity he was working! My then partner  spoke to him, liked his personality and called me over Skype to London to say ‘He’ is interesting, has done his computer engg but due to adverse market condition he is doing marketing job. I instantly told ‘lets hire him’. I haven’t even spoken to this fund-raiser..

He started as marketing executive, did so wonderful work that even traditional marketers will struggle. But one fine day, he buzzed me on Skype saying ‘hey Santosh, I want to do coding’. I was like ‘oh my God!!!!; now I have to really think’ 🙂 But as usual, I don’t hesitate to give a chance, so I said ok let’s start. He moved from marketing team to engineering team and he single handedly coded/maintained/built a culture of engineering. When we had a big tragedy of people leaving us in mid 2010 thinking we are going to go down, he was one who took a stand to work with us.

As of today, he is the frontman of Explara.

Moral of the story : As a startup, we have limited resources, less time for micromanagement, therefore the individuals can’t sit down on the middle thinking others are responsible for their fate! If you allow that to happen, you are building one-man company. Let individuals drive equally as team member & build you team. Let other middleman go!

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