I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to recruit a lot of types of folks over the years where my domain knowledge was limited.  I’ve had to recruit Ph.Ds. from various domains, including particle physics.  Front-end, mid-end, back-end engineers of all sorts and types.  Sales managers back when I never managed sales.  Internet marketers when I didn’t know how to internet market.

You get the picture.  Anyhow, the one thing I learned, beyond getting help screening and hiring for these positions from domain experts, is to look for Flags.  For signs the prospective hire just won’t work out, no matter how strong they might look on paper.

And I’ve learned again and again, including quite recently, there are 4 types of hires to just avoid:

  • “CEOs” — if they weren’t really one.  If someone puts “CEO” on their LinkedIn as a prior job at some 1 or 2 person company you’ve never heard of, then generally, be wary of hiring them.  Why join a start-up?  Well, reason #1 is personal and career advancement.  It’s hard to advance going from, ahem, a self-titled “CEO” to Director of Something.  These folks generally just struggle to successfully re-enter a formal work hierarchy.  Just pass here, nine times out of ten at least.  {Note: if you were a CEO of your own little company or small business, then just don’t put that on your resume.  Just Write Owner.  Or Principal.  Or GM.  Or Partner.  Anything but CEO. 🙂  Note 2:  it can make sense to make an exception for a ex-CEO of a real start-up that didn’t make it, for a role they were great at before then.  If they’ve truly realized that’s the right path for them, for now.}
  • Architects.  OK, I know many great developers are architects.  And I do think there’s definitely room for one architect in your start-up:  one to step up as your CTO or VPE.   The problem is, beyond that, it’s an awkward title which suggests an awkward hire, for a start-up at least.  An architect is often someone that wants to be more than an individual contributor, indeed is and thinks they are better than an individual contributor — but often doesn’t want to be a real manager.  Doesn’t want to be a Director or a VP.  Do you really have room for this in your start-up?  Probably just that one, at least for a while.  If you hire an architect as an individual contributor developer … that never seems to work out.  This can change for companies with 60-100+ developers.  At that point, VPEs need them to scale.  But.  Not for start-ups.
  • Game Developers / Folks That Have Only Done B2C.  This isn’t personal. But I’ve learned in SaaS at least, consumer folks usually don’t work out moving over to B2B, especially enterprise B2B. Folks from consumer internet are used to users, not customers.  But at least sometimes, they sort of get it if they were at least sort of close to consumers-as-customers. But engineers and others from gaming companies … they just are so far from SaaS customers, it just doesn’t seem to work.  They are often super smart (lots of maths here).  They build games.  Millions use them.  If the game is cool, they win.  No need to talk to anyone, or make anyone happy — directly.  They seem to hate working at SaaS companies in the end, and just leave, and go back to gaming or something very consumer-y.
  • Dualies. This is tip #01.  The ex-VP of Sales and Marketing.  The ex-VP of Sales and Business Development.  The ex-VP of Product and Engineering.  Yes, the areas are adjacent.  But, no.  Sales and Marketing are different, with different goals, different metrics, and different deliverables.  You can’t be fish and fowl.  And you can’t do both right, at least not in a start-up.  You need the best of the best in Sales, Marketing, Client Success, Biz Dev, Product, Engineering.  Not a VP doing a mediocre job of both.   Pass on the Dualies, unless it was just a single stint in an otherwise string of Singlies.
  • And Be Wary of Folks That Want to Become Dualies Next.  A real VP of Sales doesn’t want to be a VP of Sales & Success next.  Not really.  What they want is an even bigger win.  A VP of Sales that wants to be VP of More Than Sales is someone that’s sort of done … doing sales.  Sometimes, maybe you can have a CRO that doesn’t want to do sales per se anymore.  But definitely not before $30m-$40m ARR.  And maybe — never.

Ok, there are many exceptions.  But in my experience, for over a decade of senior-level hiring, these 4 types never work out, for start-ups at least …

Don’t do it.  Especially, most especially, the dualies as VPs.

They just don’t want to do the one single job you need them to do.

(note: an updated Classic SaaStr post)

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