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Finding Your “First Business Hire”

October 1, 2008


One of the things I spend lots of time doing is helping the entrepreneurs we back build their management teams.  It is a big part of our job, and actually the part of it I probably enjoy the most.

It is pretty typical for us once we make an investment to huddle with the entrepreneur and to map out what the org chart should look like in 6-12 months, to define a bunch of job specs, and then to launch some searches, either with or without a search firm’s assistance. Sometimes, in fact, we actually do this before we even invest.

Usually it is pretty easy to flesh out the org chart — there is a CEO, a VP Eng, a VP Marketing, VP Sales, sometimes a VP of BD, and a finance executive. Give or take, this is a pretty standard org chart for a venture backed startup.

Sometimes, though, throwing a full troop of VPs into a startup is the last thing you want to do — particularly for a very early web company that has a technical founder and either has or could achieve pretty substantial scale without a very large organization. Hiring a “been there done that” CEO, and/or a bunch of VPs, would not only be overkill but could actually drag the company down. With the rise of Web 2.0 this is something we see more and more often.  In these cases, the ideal scenario is to find the “first business hire” who can be a real partner to the technical founder and help him/her execute successfully and get the venture to the next level.  In other words, someone who can wear a bunch of hats across a range of different functions.  In many cases, the right person will be a “product guy” who is comfortable also with a smattering of bizdev and operations tasks.

Finding that person, though, defies the traditional search process — and, I might add, most professional search firms, who are accustomed to doing searches either for a CEO or for a VP __. They have a methodology for doing this, have a database of a gazillion people out there, and can quickly tap that database based on the role you are looking to fill. But “First Business Hire” is not a field in that database.

So, more often than not the person is found through the personal networks of the folks around the table.  Which is why I am always looking to meet great early stage folks, with a strong product background and an ability to wear a bunch of hats and get their hands dirty.  If you fit that bill, I want to meet you!


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  1. October 1, 2008


    Great post, on a great topic. In the instance referred to it’s the case that you need some, what I call, general “badasses”. The kind of folks who get down to getting stuff done, but at the same time can operate at a more macro level. I’ve spent many an hour pondering this skill set, which I would term as the ability to go from micro to macro at an absolutely beastly speed as a standard operating procedure. As stated previously, this is a great topic, and definitive need in the start-up space. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new, specified, and market recognized class of individuals. While I don’t think this is a matter of pure semantics, I do think that it has been long overdue as a function of recognition in order to bring the idea (as you describe) it to legitimacy. I think some folks might argue that the role you have described is termed a “generalist” – but I’m not sure I agree with that. At any rate, I agree that it would be a valuable to have a network of these individuals – so if you’ve go any other bright ideas/ambitions regarding the subject matter I am all ears.

    In closing, fantastic post, I’ve got the blog on my RSS feed; so keep up the good work.



  2. October 26, 2008

    having happily (and i think successfully) played this role for Second Life developer Linden Lab, here’s some things to focus on in making this first business hire:

    1) Start-ups should really be wary of trying to pull a big co careerist into this role – someone who is used to managing a team often turns to delegation instead of execution.

    2) Look for someone who has dealt with vendors or contractors before as these pluggable components play an important role rounding out a team before fulltime hires can be made.

    3) Look to try to balance the personality of the founder but not to the point where conflict is likely to occur.

    4) Look for someone who gets excited about the team, not just the idea. The company will likely mutate and evolve and this first hire needs to be committed.

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