We have been playing startup for over two years now and have worked with a lot of people to get to the stage we are in now.. All of them have contributed to us some way or the other. But some people have made a larger contribution than others.. While I have never figured out what motivates people to work their asses off for a startup giving up big ticket corporate jobs, I have learnt a few bits about how to identify the people that have the right blood for a startup. I call them Assasins. How do you identify one?
- Being Stubborn: In a startup, it is important -to not drop the ball, to be determined, to be innovative and to find ways to do more than usual. Your people have to get the job done. And exceed expectations. They need to want to do it and go after it with all their heart. And that is the only reward they should seek. During the interview process, if they want to join your startup, they will leave no stone unturned to do that. Of course, you might have to work hard to make them want it enough. At the end of the interview, if you tell them “im sorry you don’t fit the candidature” and see a WTF-No-Way face on them, you know you are talking to the right person.
- Being Impulsive: Once you have put in all your efforts to convince a person to join you, it shouldn’t take much time for the other person to step in. If that doesn’t happen and you get a laundry list of questions which never really mattered even to you, that’s another signal for a wrong guy (or girl). Such questions may or may not include:
- What’s your current revenue breakdown by geography and business vertical? [My Answer: Do you really think I have the time to do this math?]
- What is your exit strategy? [My Answer: Exits are made after something becomes exitable, don’t you think we should work towards that first?]
- Blah BlahBlah..!
Seriously, if you get any of this crap thrown at you, you know who you should throw out.
- Being Animals: This is my favourite question. I ask everyone I interview a very trivial question – “If you were to describe yourself as an animal, which one would it be”. The answer for a startup candidate has to be an aggressive animal – a flesh eater, the king of the jungle who gets what he wants. The absolute worst answers I have heard include a cat, unicorn (really…), and worst of all, a snake (!). Please, I do not want slithery snakes in my startup. Neither do I want rainbow chasing horned horses, this is a startup not a fairy tale.This is a commonly asked question in interviews, so some people are trained to answer this in the right way. But a startup is also about emotions. So, if you hear the right answer, but don’t feel it in your gut, you’re probably right.
- Being Victims: Your people should have something to prove. They should not be the best people on paper. If you think that you will be lucky to get someone who has a stellar academic record all throughout his life, you couldn’t be more wrong. Some of these ‘star’ candidates (no offence to some of my closest friends), sometimes, merely use startups as a stepping stone to get into the best business schools where they can continue to add degrees to their well-polished CVs. The people you hire should seek you to prove something to themselves, their family and their friends. Degrees and brands don’t matter to them. Working in a big company will never give them a chance at doing all the superhuman stuff you do in a startup. For example, it is 2am right now and I have 7 colleagues alive and kicking on my work IM who I can talk to and discuss stuff, something you’d never dream in a corporate deadjob. Only the people who have lived through pain in their lives will be able to plow through the highs and lows of working in a startup. And support you through it.
- In for the Kill: Money should not be the driving factor for someone to join your startup. For the money, they are better off working somewhere else. In fact, whenever I talk to people who are already working somewhere else, I tell them that they will only make 80% of what they used to make in their previous jobs. No exceptions! The actual quantum is not as important as a percentage cut. Saying this will make a lot of people you interview not join you, but it is all for the good. The journey, the thrill and the need to kill is what should matter the most. The long nights to get things done, getting a step closer, outwitting your competition, and reaching a day when you can proudly say – “we did it!”. Not many people get to say this during their lives. Your people should be working with you to get to that one moment even if , this might take many years to get there. But with hard work, determination and team work it will be just like blowing the smoke off the tip of a gun barrel. With the kill at your feet.