What is the most important characteristic of a company founder? Perhaps a visionary mind, bold spirit, or strong work ethic. There is no single answer. But I believe there is one essential trait that is often overlooked. I am talking about patience — the willingness to pursue opportunities and solve challenges as they arrive. This is especially true when it comes to hiring.
Hiring when the truth of the business does not support adding more people only leads to pain.
I understand why it can be tempting to think growing the team means you are growing the business. Maybe your competitors are rapidly hiring and you feel the urge to do the same. You want to show that your company is expanding and figure you will need more folks to meet that future need. Or you have been fortunate to receive VC funding and now feel pressure to put it to work.
But rapid hiring does not equate to business success. Staffing up quickly without a real plan is often a sign that your company is growing too fast. In order to make wise decisions as a founder, you must understand exactly what (and who) is needed for the business to thrive. And that takes time.
My co-founder Dr. Chris Waters and I waited about a year after founding Aha! before we hired anyone. This was intentional. We even set a goal to reach 100 paying customers before bringing anyone on. Development, live calls with trial users, marketing, and invoicing — we did everything ourselves. It was hard work but we learned deep lessons about our customers in the process. In the end, we surpassed our goal and hired that first teammate at around 125 customers.
The logic behind our thinking was not that complex. We chose to scale the organization only because it would have hurt our customers not to do so. And because we had done all the initial company building ourselves, we knew what success looked like. Our company still takes this same approach today, even with nearly 100 teammates and more than 250,000 users of our software. We hire only when the business and customers truly demand it.
Hiring plans should map to business growth and align with what the company needs to best serve customers.
Looking at hiring this way has allowed us to grow in a sustainable way while maintaining the quality and the culture that makes Aha! so special. Here is how we do it and how you can take a strategic approach to hiring:
Know your values
Your principles should guide every decision you make — so you need to document what you value. For example, we captured the principles of The Responsive Method, our framework for personal and business success, early on. It helps prospective teammates understand how we work.
Know the work
The best way to understand why a role is needed from a business perspective is to have done the work yourself. This teaches you what will make someone successful and helps you determine the right person for the job. We do our best to promote from within at Aha! — which means most hiring managers intimately know the details of every open position on their team.
Know your plan
Developing a business-driven hiring plan is essential. We do this as part of creating our annual operating plan. Every role we recruit for corresponds to a long-term solution that will help us better serve customers and each other. If your company is dynamic like Aha! is, then I suggest you revisit your plan every few months to make sure it maps to current needs.
What traits will make someone love working at your company? Knowing this will help you discover if a qualified candidate will truly enjoy being on your team. At Aha! we seek out experts who take pride in helping others and display integrity, ambition, effort, skill, team spirit, and learning.
Finding the right person is not always easy. And because you are being intentional about each hire, it may take months before that person finds you. But you need to accept this and encourage the rest of your team to stay motivated while waiting. An exceptional person for a role is worth five people who are just an average fit.
It can be tempting to hire, hire, hire. And there are so many talented folks — the idea that they might want to join your team is exciting.
But a healthy dose of circumspection can help you deliver more value to your customers and company. You do not want to dash around, adding people in the hopes that you will have enough work for them later. It is not good for them or the company.
Building a business in a sustainable way is a journey. First step? Have a real need for someone to do important work and then go find the right person who can deliver and will love doing so.
What is your strategy for hiring?
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