Travis Pittman, who built his startup TourRadar from zero to 43 team members, shared a couple of learnings from his journey. He talked on the Startup Milestones podcast – these are the key takeaways.
Hire for commitment and passion over competence
The number one screening criteria Travis and his brother and cofounder Shawn applied was: is this candidate as committed and passionate as we are?
Why is commitment and passion so important? Why is it NOT enough to hire someone who is an expert and his field and does a great job? Especially for the first hires, the startup is still in a very dynamic state. You cannot afford to bring on people who are just looking for a stable day job. This is NOT what you can offer at this point. On the contrary. Tasks, job descriptions, goals – they are very likely to change a lot. Everyone in the team will have to grow, both professionally as well as personally.
It is a tough ride, that not every candidate is cut out for. The tricky thing is, that many applicants THINK they want to work in a startup. But few really KNOW what it really means, to work in an early stage startup. Make sure candidates understand what they are applying for. And screen for their commitment and passion to join the mission of your startup.
Asking the right questions – and know YOUR values
“It’s about finding and asking the right questions”, Travis insists. Questions in the job interview that show you, whether the candidate shares your passion, vision and values. “Ask little, basic thinks like: what sort of hours do you usually work? Do you work on weekends?”. Travis knew he wanted to build a hard-working team of A-players, so he asks these questions and screened for a match.
The tricky part can be to be clear about what YOUR values are. Only if you know them, you can even ask the according questions. Dig in and find your values. Just be honest with yourself: there is no point in hiring people who will work 80 hours a week, when you and your cofounders want to call it a day every day at five in the afternoon.
And don’t worry – there are many cultures and values that can sustain a successful business. For instance Juho Makkonen, cofounder of Sharetribe, is building a successful startup with a company culture of working 40 hours per week maximum. So there is no wrong or right. Just be clear about YOUR values; and then screen the candidates for a match. Or as Travis put it: “Unless the candidate is aligned with your mentality and thinking, there will not be compatibility and it will fall apart.”