The Lessons You Don’t Learn in Business School – Making That First Hire…Intelligently

By: Sumeet Goel

This post is part of a continuing series that offer insights into some of the challenges that we faced in the early days of HighPoint – and what I learned from the process –stay tuned for more.

When building a business from the ground-up, your first inclination may be to bootstrap it and do everything yourself; I know mine was. As I made the transition from lone independent consultant to the founder of a fledgling firm, I spent the first two years as master of all domains – essentially the chief cook, sous-chef, waiter and bottle washer all at once. I was working twice as hard as ever before…and making the same money.

That is, until I realized (rather, it was pointed out to me) that while I was capable of handling every role in the company, I spent 80 percent of my time focused on tasks other folks would be better suited to do, rather than on the 20 percent of things where I added the most value to the business. Obvious, right? But rather hard to see when you’re used to doing everything yourself and if you have the same Carly Simon-inspired disease that I do – “Nobody Does It Better.”

So you pivot to hiring folks who can support your growth. Sometimes you make mistakes along the way, but here is what I’ve learned from them:

  • Look, Walk, Talk, Act…like me: While it’s a safe approach bringing on folks with similar backgrounds, you need balance. The coin-operated salesperson is different from the individual who excels at long-term client development – both have incredible merits and, over the long-term, both are necessary to create the balance that helps the business grow.
  • I Have Enough Friends: Bringing friends on to work with you creates a difficult dynamic as the personal and professional are forced to comingle. If things go awry professionally, it may become difficult to address because of your valued friendship.
  • Beer Test: I loved this as a concept and it made sense to me as a consultant (“look everyone, a concise framework!”) and an extroverted social animal. However, experience taught me you don’t always need to hire someone you would want to hang out with at Happy Hour. You also need a blend of folks, with different backgrounds, experiences, likes and dislikes. It gives you different perspectives and something to build upon professionally.
  • Fatigue Hiring: Be very cautious of the fatigue based hire. You end up bringing on someone who is not a perfect fit because you’ve been searching for six months – and then realizing the mistake a further six months down the road. Big mistake. To borrow from Economics 101, the six month search was a sunk cost. But the hiring, training and investing behind the candidate, only to pull the ripcord six months later? That, my friends, is lost opportunity cost.
  • Passion v. Money: When you get past the start-up phase and can pay for performance, you face a new challenge where you have to evaluate candidates who are focused solely on the compensation side. The people you really need are those who are excited about your business, what you offer to the market and how your services are changing the way your industry operates.

In hindsight, these may all seem obvious, but they’re tough to focus on in the moment. Now I can look towards the future, however, knowing from experience to skip the candidates who don’t pass the tests above and instead focus on those who are going to help us grow and succeed long-term.