Senior roles in early stages

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In the early stages of a company, should you be hiring senior people or more junior individuals? Who should the first few non-founder hires be?

Ed Sim worries that early-stage startups with no product and no customers are too focused on creating an impressive-looking senior team. He says, "I have major concerns when I see SVP of this and SVP of that and I wonder to myself who is going to do all the work if everyone is a Senior VP."

Feedburner’s Dick Costolo disagrees. There’s a lot of good reasons to bring on senior people early—if they’re going to be able to get their hands dirty and do the early-stage work.

He says,

You as entrepreneur are less likely to have to play grown-up and deal with the management issues that can frequently pop-up among a largely junior staff. It’s critical in the first 12-18 months to run as fast as possible, and by bringing in experienced players that can hit the ground running, you give yourself an opportunity to get a lot accomplished quickly.

The additional advantage of this is that you’ll have an easier time finding junior people when you’re in your high growth phase. The senior people will already be on board and can stop into management and mentor roles.

Sim further suggests that if you hire senior people early on, you might have the wrong people. What if that VP of Marketing has scads of experience in marketing consumer products, but you decide to shift to enterprise software?

Costolo suggests making sure you hire flexible snior people, not specialists. Hire people with experience in multiple organizational roles, or at least people with general management experience. Hire a CTO and you’ll have trouble when you need someone to run the sales staff while you’re traveling to your first trade show. Hire a VP of Sales and you might have trouble getting payroll filled when your finance guy is out.

Costolo suggests...

You want your more experienced early hires to be as much like stem cells as possible….able to take on differing roles in the organism depending on where they’re needed if the business or market or hiring experience shifts from expectations.


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