Startup founders are required by an unspoken law to repeat the mantra, “I only hire A-players”. The desire to find and employ the best talent is grounded in minimizing team risk and fostering the best environment for growth. The wrong team can destroy a startup’s fragile culture and slow the team down, which threatens the life of a startup.
No company should hire the wrong team willfully; however, like Moneyball, what matters is how your team interacts with each other and rather than the individual talent of each team member. Don’t hire A-players blinding but hire for your culture, the needs of your team, and the long-run health of your company.
My mother once told me, “Everyone in your company should be replaceable, even yourself. Otherwise, you are not doing your job right.” Most of children dismiss parental advice but when your mom is an executive at a 1000+ company valued in the billions, a wise child would take their parent’s advice quite seriously.
From the CEO down to a junior analyst, it is unhealthy for an organization to depend on a single individual to succeed, whether its a cultural or execution dependency. It is not scalable and bottle necks forward momentum. No one employee should be irreplaceable as it sets a company up for failure. It is an unnecessary risk and holds a company’s future hostage.
When Chamath Palihapitiya left Facebook’s growth team, he said, “my team did not miss a beat.” Top talent tries to work themselves out of a job because they are in the business of solving problems and creating value for their team, not their ego.
Another risk of A-players is ego. A-players can function either like a guiding light or like a vampire that takes life from their co-workers. Vampire star employees are dangerous. They are hostile to challenges to their ego and have a win at all costs attitude towards the world. Being an A-player is not just driving for results but executing in a sustainable way that gels with the team’s culture.
Vampire star employees feel threatened by making their team less dependent on their skills, so they often create cliques and every decision is contentious. These type of A-players may solve skill based problems but create new culture-based problems.
The best way to hire top talent is to put culture first, not skills. All companies are built upon social interaction. Vampire employees consume social capital and create toxic environments, while the best employees create it and share it freely.
Take a cure from Billy Beane, the main subject of Moneyball. Recruit talent that will create a greater competitive advantage when they work together. Focusing just on individual skills will not be a winning strategy. Don’t rely on single individuals for the life or death of your company. Startups cannot afford this type of risk. Higher smart and people of good character, but realize that life happens. People come and go for various reasons. Don’t look for A-players to
save grow your company, look towards your team.