What The Right People Can Do

New blog post from Venture for America Founder and President, Andrew Yang:

One of the central premises of Venture for America is that having the right people on board early in a company’s development is crucial to a business growing and achieving its potential. The more experienced an entrepreneur is, the more he or she tends to value early hires.

There are a few reasons why. First, in most organizations top employees are not just incrementally more productive than average workers. They’re MUCH more productive. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying the top programmer is 100 times more productive than an average programmer. While that’s a bit dramatic, it’s true that having a handful of top-notch people on board early makes any company much more likely to establish itself and succeed. Devising a new and innovative product or offering and delivering on it are a lot more doable if you have a few of the right people around.

Second, in a start-up people’s roles often morph and grow over time. Ideally you’re hiring someone not to do a job, but to do or even invent a bigger job when the company expands. At my last company we hired a brilliant guy straight out of college to the Marketing Department. Over time, he realized that we needed to bulk up our online presence. He wound up teaching himself to code, revamped much of our site, and over the next couple of years became the Manager of a brand new Online Marketing department that was built around him. He’s now getting his Master’s Degree in Computer Science. Not coincidentally, the company’s revenue grew about 150% during this period. You’re not always sure what your needs are going to be as the company grows; the right people will help you figure them out and fill whatever needs that do arise.

Third, if you have strong early hires, it’s highly attractive to other talented and hard-working people. There’s an aphorism that A people hire B’s, B people hire C’s, and C people hire losers. The challenge is to hire A’s from the outset and keep the quality high for as long as you possibly can. It’s a million times easier to build a winning team if the first few players are talent magnets. On the flipside, it’s brutal trying to pull together the right people if you have someone around early on that doesn’t generate a high degree of confidence/enthusiasm/respect. Cultures get built from the beginning, and whoever joins a company takes cues from whoever’s already there.

When building a team, a common saying in start-up world is, “Slow to Hire, Fast to Fire.” Good organizations work very hard at recruiting and retaining the right people. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, don’t doubt what a small group of smart, committed people can accomplish – because that’s the way everything starts.