Be Careful Hiring CEOs, Architects, Game Devs, or Dualies

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 generally, be wary.  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 folks 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

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