Why You Can’t Hire for Your Startup
It’s not about the idea or the benefits
Of all the challenges we would encounter getting uffizzi off the ground - the one that haunts me the most is hiring. With a bold idea and money in the bank just how hard would it really be to build a team? We would offer market rate salaries, an opportunity to work at an exciting new tech startup in the South’s “It” city (Nashville), throw in some modern perks like a gym membership or weekly yoga classes and the talent should be there, right?
We offered above market rate salaries. We offered Health insurance. We had a great idea. But despite all these things - the vast majority of people are simply not interested in signing on for the uncertainty factor - the ever persistent 90% start-up failure rate.
Finding a new job is hard enough - add the likelihood that the job could go away in 6 months or really at any time - and most people just aren’t up for that.
Culturally, we’ve been led to believe that startups - particularly tech startups - are exciting, lucrative, world changing, and, perhaps above all, fun. Ping pong tables in the boardroom, bean bags for chairs, cafeterias with chocolate fountains, flexible hours, and money seemingly falling from the sky.
A tech startup is not your daddy’s suit and tie corporate gig - a startup is rule breaking, paradigm shifting, cash hemorrhaging hysteria, right?
Despite being totally devoid of empirical reality, these are the Hollywood images we’ve come to associate with what it's like in those early days of a start-up. When we hear about “The Steves” (Wozniak and Jobs) or Jeff Bezos starting out in their garages after they are multi-billionaires we tend to romanticize the garage part.
But before he was “Jeff Bezos the billionaire” to his neighbors, he was “Jeff Bezos the strange guy who sells books out of his garage”.
At that point on the entrepreneur’s journey the garage is less romantic and much more perfunctory. And for anyone who was going to join him on this venture it must’ve looked more like the kind of operation that funds your LARPing hobby than one that funds your 401k.
Sure, at any startup enthusiasm is high - as it should be - if you weren’t excited about the possibilities then what are you doing this for in the first place? But behind that thin facade of enthusiasm which is propped up by your Squarespace website, Delaware LLC paperwork, and patent pending is the undeniable reality. No revenue. No product. No team to build the product.
It’s this harsh reality that makes hiring for your startup so damn hard.
Over the course of four months in 2019 we offered three senior level software developers up to $150k per year with health insurance and equity options. We would have made the offer to a fourth before he bailed for a lucrative crypto-coin deal. And at the end of that stretch we were batting zeros 0.000.
We also tried hiring junior developers where we were an abysmal 1 for 3 (And we’re still grateful for our one.) One guy didn’t even give us the courtesy of responding to our offer and the other wanted assurances that he would get the title “Lead Developer” before roundly ghosting us.
These rejections are soul crushing. You expect to get turned down by potential customers and maybe even more so by potential investors. But we didn’t even qualify for those higher levels of rejection. We couldn’t even hire the team to build the thing that we hoped to sell - that’s next level entrepreneurial pain.
We were at the bottom tier of rejection - where you can’t even pay someone to join you.
You can try to explain away the nuances of why each turned us down but the bottom line underscoring every rejection was the uncertainty of what they were jumping into. Humans don’t like uncertainty - and a startup is a meme for uncertainty.
Having personally endured the hiring rejection several times over here’s my key takeaways:
1. Consider yourself lucky if you can find a good partner - someone who will bear these burdens with you on the startup journey
2. Don’t expect people to just jump onboard your exciting new venture - the truth is you can’t pay most people to do it.
3. You’ll be at a distinct advantage if you have the ability to personally build your product
4. Don’t be a little bitch about rejection. Each instance makes you dig that much deeper.