Hiring & Retention

Don’t Hire CEOs, Architects, Game Devs, or Dualies


Jason Lemkin

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 someone puts “CEO” on their LinkedIn as a prior job at some small company you’ve never heard of, then do not pass go, do not hire 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 are too full of themselves.  Just pass.  {Note: if you were a CEO of your own little company or small business, then just don’t put that on your resume.  Write Owner.  Or Principal.  Or GM.  NOT CEO.  Note 2:  rare exception for CEO of a real start-up that didn’t make it, for a role they were great at before then.}
  • 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.  This isn’t personal.  But I’ve learned in SaaS at least, consumer guys usually don’t work out.  Folks from consumer internet are used to users, not customers.  They don’t like it when you have to build something for a customer.  But at least sometimes, they sort of get it if they were at least sort of close to consumers-as-customers. But engineers 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.  The VP of Sales and Marketing.  The VP of Sales and Business Development.  The 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.

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 …

Bad hire image from here.

Published on November 26, 2012


  1. This bullet here about “gamers”? Total nonsense IMO!

    For starters, _gamers_ are nowhere near the same as _game developers_, which is really what you are referring to in your post. Secondly, modern game development is all about building experiences for people wanting to be entertained. It doesn’t matter it they’re collectively referred to users, customers, players or targets. The game industry regularly hold big debates about how to refer to their customers internally, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They’re ultimately still the same people, with the same requests, hopes and desires regardless of how a company labels them internally.

    Here, let me repeat that in a style more familiar to you: It. Does. Not. Matter.

    Modern game development is all about market research, pre-project validation, and early development feedback from paying customers.

    In addition, most modern large-scale game projects have online services way beyond the scope and complexity of your average SaaS, so it’s not like the environment or requirements are unknown to game developers.

    It looks to me like your prejudice is cutting off access to a huge pool of broadly skilled, highly intelligent and very versatile talent. Not only that, but here you are promoting that as a pro-tip to the rest of the world. *tsk tsk*

  2. I agree with you that I really mean “game developers” (changing) and I agree with you I’m cutting of a huge pool of highly skilled talent. Super skilled talent. I just know from my experience hiring a ton of these guys, and those of my peer founder/CEOs, that game developers don’t enjoy doing business SaaS products for the most part. They are super smart engineers, I think the smartest of any genre / segment. But they just don’t like working on workflows, customer issues, and the like.

    My only point with the post was to trigger thinking. High turnover can kill you in a start-up, and in SaaS, it’s even worse because so much workflow and business process knowledge goes out the door.

    I wish dualies, game developers, and such had a high chance of success. I just think the odds are lower there.

  3. ITT: “Don’t hire game developers! I’m a repeat suit who can’t get quite seem to get people passionate about solving customer problems, so the most talented and driven engineers go someplace with a vision.”

    Don’t hire suits that don’t know how to hold on to good engineers that wish to create memorable experiences. Don’t put the cart in front of the horse. If talent leaves, the problem is with management.

    In the West, game development attracts some of the very, very, very best engineers – you should totally hire them, and learn from them about passion and commitment.

    1. Yeah I know this is controversial. I do agree game development attacts the very, very, very best engineers. Substantially better than your average “SaaS” engineer. It’s just they always seem to go back to B2C. They don’t want to work with enterprise customers issues. Usually, at least. In my experience, at least.

  4. Haha fun post from 3 years ago. I’m so unemployable through those criteria. I was a video game developer for 10 years in my career of 12 different companies. Kind of prove your point? Going outside of games felt like a ferrari in a 20mph zone. Managing talent is not only important, it’s not easy. You don’t hire a Ferrari to drive in town, that’s just plain stupid, yet people still do that.

    Anyhow, I solved my problem and managed to build a great own company although I’m a duality too now: https://quickmail.io/team

    I don’t care bout my ego however, so I never put CEO on my resume. I’m just a founder with a strong passion 🙂

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