One of the stupid things I did when I first started making money was start an indie music label.
It was the early 2000s, online music was just starting to take off and I wanted to learn more about it from the inside out. I thought I saw a lot of parallels between the tech startup industry and the music industry and I thought I could use those insights to my advantage.
I was right about the market agreements. Just like in the music industry, everyone who enters the tech startup industry wants to be a star – no one wants to start out as just a member of the band.
And just like in the music industry, most founders don’t understand that your success or failure depends much less on your star potential and much more on the fluke and unfair control of distribution enjoyed by the majors (major labels in music, big tech and VC funds in technology). Just like in music, the stories we hear in technology are about the people who found creative ways to get around all the obstacles; never the stories of the people who didn’t.
When I started my label, I worked hard to find the artists I felt had the experience needed to succeed — people who had played and sung in other successful bands, who had been signed to majors in the past, who had produced great music. work.
I believed it was my job to hire the most experienced and qualified people because that was the kind of talent my label needed to succeed.
Those people were hard to find, harder to convince to join, expensive, came with high expectations, didn’t work very hard, and had nothing in common, so they didn’t try to help each other succeed.
If I had the time again (and I don’t), I’d spend a lot less time and money per artist instead, and spread my effort over a much larger number of artists, and focus on hiring artists instead with a great cultural background. fit.
Artists who focus on culture and subculture would care more about each other’s successes and try to support each other instead of leaning on me all the time. Distributors and booking agents associated my label with a certain subculture or sound, and came to associate my artists with a certain demographic that they could count on me to bring to their stores and venues.
It requires me to control my ego, accept that I cannot create stars on my own, that the hurdles in the industry are all controlled by the majors, and the best I can do is hire people who can learn very quickly about how you can be a better performer, respond to what their audience wants to hear, and how to give your best even when it seems like they won’t succeed.
How to prioritize
How do you apply that metaphor to tech startups?
Well, when I speak to a founder with a hiring problem, they tell me they’re having a hard time finding the talent they need, and I’ll ask them to prioritize what they’re looking for.
Do you hire by experience first, skills first, or culture first? Most of them will prioritize these three things this way:
- Culture appropriate
And you can see them writing job descriptions and job postings that reflect that: we’re building a fintech startup on this tech stack and we’re looking for someone with 5+ years experience building a fintech startup on that same tech stack.
You should be skilled when using the following checklist of developer tools. Oh yeah almost as an afterthought here’s a half-thought-out set of common platitudes about what it’s like to work here so you can get a sense of what our culture is like.
That prioritization is outdated. It should be:
- Culture appropriate. You can’t afford to pay this person what he earned before, so if he doesn’t like being part of the team, doesn’t like the mission, and doesn’t feel valued for more than just his skills and abilities. experience, they will not stick. People with a strong cultural fit help their colleagues, mentor more junior staff, seek speaking opportunities at industry events, write a blog post and share it on their social media.
- Skills. You probably can’t afford the person who is an expert in the skills you need, and you certainly can’t wait for them to turn all of your existing processes and tools into their preferred set where they feel comfortable and are an expert. So choose people who can prove they are a fast learner. Their jobs will change drastically over the next five years, so the ability to quickly learn new tools and methodologies to an acceptable level to progress is much more useful than someone who stubbornly refuses to learn something new because they are an expert in something else .
- Experience. If your startup goes according to plan, hire someone who can recruit, manage, and lead five people, each doing the job you’re hiring them to do today. What are the chances that someone with eight years of experience performing the current job will become a great leader of that position in a management role? If you need experience, it’s experience of the client’s industry, experience of change and disruption, experience of living and working with uncertainty and risk.
Recruit people who want to build a subculture with you, who care more about your customers than your competitors, who don’t try to be the best at anything but can’t wait to learn enough of a new skill to become helpful at their job. And unless you’re already a major label and money is coming out of your head, don’t hire major label artists because they’ve never had to find creative ways to get around the obstacles to success.