Selecting the best team for the startup gridiron

football-and-business

(Editor’s note: Auren Hoffman is CEO of Rapleaf. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.) 

Hiring managers face a dilemma similar to coaches: Should you hire someone who’s really good at one particular thing – or someone who is more of an all-around player?

Above all else, you should always hire A-Players exclusively. Never hire people that are “good enough.” You want great people in your organization – people you love working with and people you’d walk through walls for.

As for what sort of employee you’re looking for, you’ll need to determine if you want to optimize on experience (people you are confident will get a specific task done) or potential (people who are great all-around athletes, but may not be suited for your priority tasks). Here’s a closer look at the two:

The Position Player –  This is someone who is amazing at one core thing that your company needs. A professional football team has a ton of position players. These are some of the best people in the world at what they do (and they are highly compensated because of it). When building a great football team, you need a great quarterback, linebacker, wide receiver, kicker, coach, groundsperson, doctor, and more. You need people who are incredibly good at one key role and do it consistently.

The All-Around Athlete – The all-around athlete is someone who is good at many positions but may not the very best at any particular position (i.e. a winner of the Olympic decathlon). A great athlete on the field is someone that has burst speed, endurance, hand-eye coordination, court-sense, and is a team player. In a company, the all-around athlete is likely someone who is crazy smart, works really hard, has a great attitude, communicates well, and is a team player.

So should your organization recruit the position player or the all-around athlete? It really all depends on where your company is now.

Scaling mode – If your company is in scaling mode and you know what you are going to be doing for the next three years, you should optimize for position players. While great position players are usually very expensive, they get things done extremely well.

For example, suppose your company is an ad network looking to build a portfolio of publishers. Someone who’s extremely familiar with the internet advertising space (perhaps someone who has helped build publisher networks in their last two jobs) would be the ideal choice. They won’t come cheap, but they may have the experience to attract world-class publishers.

It’s only worth the investment, though, if you are focused on this goal – and it’s one you expect to continue for awhile.

Change mode – When you are in start-up mode, your business model is likely to change frequently as you pivot based on customer research and an evolving market.

When you are in change mode, it’s best to optimize for hiring all-around athletes. There’s no sense spending time and effort recruiting the best field-goal kicker if next year you decide you want to play basketball instead of football.

Avoiding early mistakes — and how to step on the gas
One of the common mistakes start-ups make is to immediately bring position players on board. It’s a risky proposition. While hiring position players will significantly increase the chance of success for your current model, it gives you little room to pivot. Any significant change in your business model might force you to swap out your team.

If you are tech company in change mode (or even if you are developing a “start-up” within a large company), start by finding talented software engineers. (Regardless of the company’s shifts, it’s a safe bet  you’ll need people that can write great code.)

Don’t get too specialized, though. If you hire a killer iPhone developer, that may backfire if you end up building back-end billing systems for large businesses.

For non-engineers, change-mode companies should optimize for people who are really smart, get stuff done, and can easily communicate complicated concepts. These people are likely going to be valuable in any setting.

When you finally enter scaling mode, you’ll be well-positioned to accelerate by hiring key position players. You’ll also likely have found  that many of your all-around athletes have morphed into position players themselves. With a few additional hires, you can augment their strengths.

Auren Hoffman is CEO of Rapleaf,  He blogs regularly at Summation and can be found on Twitter @auren.