Early Employees in Startups

This is the first post in a series of posts on the differences between startups and other companies.

If you look through the job postings for venture funded startup companies, you’ll see that most of them are looking for people with passion.

In particular, they are looking for passionate experts in one or two technologies. Maybe they think Node.js is the secret sauce that will make them rich. Maybe they think they can use a Javascript framework such as Ember to build a seamless UI. Odds are, though, they’re looking for the wrong thing.

Passion is an absolutely essential ingredient for early employees in a startup. Passion for a technology, however, is misguided.

As an early employee in a startup, your job is to solve problems quickly to allow your startup to learn. It’s more important to get something done than it is to create the perfect architecture. (I’ll talk about the reasons behind this in a future post on Opportunity Cost.)

Over the past seven years, we have worked with and observed a large number of startups. In that time, not a single startup has failed due to a technical challenge that couldn’t be overcome. In most cases, the failures were caused by lazy execution. Either the founder wasn’t obsessed with delighting their customers, or the engineers spent more time solving technical challenges than doing things that made the company valuable.

On the other hand, let’s look at some companies that have been highly successful. Braintree sets the standard for customer service. They have won a huge share of the online payments market not because they had a defining technology1, but because they had dedicated customer service and developer support staff who made sure you were able to get up and running. They hired developers who were knowledgeable about what their customers needed, so they could have products that solved real problems that their customers faced.

Or look at another company, Etsy. Etsy deploys some serious technology. Their technology isn’t the reason for their success. They are successful because the people who work there are passionate about making life better for their store owners. They understand that the reason they exist isn’t for technology’s sake, but that the technology is a tool to help other people be successful.

So if you’re a big established company, you might want to hire people who are passionate about a technology. But if you’re a small startup, look for people who are technically strong and, more importantly, who are passionate about building a successful business.

Are you looking for help from a team of top notch developers who care about your companies success? We would love to talk about how we can help you. Give us a call at 773.259.0145.

  1. In fact, their original payment gateway was licensed and was identical to that sold by several other vendors.