In the early days hire for talent not skill
At a start-up when you can’t see the finish line or the road ahead, so you need the best athletes, not specific skills
At AND 1 we used to hire smart, young ball players with attitude and many of them became leaders in the company. We would teach them the skills they needed to do their job — or they would teach themselves — and as the company evolved and scaled, so did they.
When you start a company there is way more un-known than known and it is tempting to look for people who have a very specific skill that you know you need — someone who knows how to acquire users on facebook or has expertise in selling to a specific type of customer etc. Someone who knows how to do the things you are trying to figure out.
Hiring for these skills seems like the best thing to do, but it’s a trap.
At First Round we are laser focused on helping entrepreneurs win at the seed stage. We do our best to help founders establish the DNA of their business and a huge piece of this is growing teams. In my own hiring at AND 1 and the videogame company and with our portfolio as teams grow from founders to 40 employees and beyond, I have seen the skill trap many times and believe the value of talent is far greater than the value of a skill — especially at the earliest stages.
If you hire for a specific skill, you are hiring against your current needs — people with narrow expertise tend to evolve and scale more slowly than the company and ultimately can get left behind. As a founder, you have needs for specific skills on your team, but you are also inventing a lot of what you do as you go along. It is very likely that any hire you make will need to do much more than the bullet points on the job description and that the job they are doing today will change 19 times in the next 12 months.The people that thrive in this type of environment, the people that scale faster than the organization and end up as leaders with longterm institutional knowledge are the most talented athletes — not the most experienced domain experts.
When you find amazing talent with the skills you need today — hire them immediately. If you have to choose between skills and talent, go with talent every time — people with a lot of raw horsepower will learn the skills they need quickly and contribute in a million ways that you have not thought of and that have nothing to do with the job you are asking them to do. They end up shaping their role and your company for the better.