Bursts of Color - The 3 Laws of Exec Hiring
I submit that, as in thermodynamics, there are three fundamental laws of executive hiring for start-ups:
It takes 3-6 months to hire a new executive
It takes 3-6 more months to get them onboard and effective
After all that, there's still a 1/3 chance they will fail
I have not seen any company defy these laws at scale, but some certainly fare worse. So while you won't be perfect, here are some thoughts about how to minimize time and failure when hiring execs:
Role Definition: Be Crystal Clear
What specific functional expertise do you need? Not "marketing," but specific channels, tactics and segments.
What level of people management experience do you need in the next year? A 2 person team is different from 20 or 200.
How is this role complementary to your own skills and focus? Minimize overlap if you want this to work.
Sourcing: Pick a Path ASAP
Founder sourcing is cheap and sometimes fastest, but only works if you are willing to hustle and make this top priority.
Retained exec searches are expensive (typically $100-300k), but they tend to ensure the hire will happen.
Contingency search firms might occasionally send a viable candidate, but aren't a reliable channel.
A senior internal recruiter can be great, but this option is usually only available to Series C+ stage companies.
Selection: Minimize the Role of Interviews
If the role is well defined, the resume is your best filter. If they don't fit your criteria, don't schedule an interview!
Write down your interview questions in advance and ask the same ones of every candidate.
Keep interview panels small. 3-4 people is usually plenty.
Check references, both front and back channel. I usually learn more from these than the interviews.
Closing: Negotiating Titles and Comp
To close a great exec, they will need to feel more love from your company than from all their external options.
Internal comparisons often matter even more. Assume that everyone will learn everyone else's compensation.
Choose titles carefully. Most people care about them, even if they say otherwise.
Keep comp packages simple and avoid complicated bonus plans. Salary + stock options is usually all we need.
Onboarding: Maximize Early Engagement
For the first few weeks, add them to as many of your meetings/threads as possible to maximize time together.
Schedule a daily, fifteen-minute 1:1 for the first few months to answer questions, course correct and build the relationship.
Identify a few easy first projects that help them get "quick wins" to build confidence and internal respect.
Encourage them to over-communicate by sending you frequent short updates and proposed next steps.
More from Marc Andreesen
Hiring, Managing, Promoting and Firing Executives, first posted in August 2007