Beware of “Normal” People in Startups and High-growth Companies

Beware of “normal” people in startups and high-growth companiesI needed a little hiatus from my blog, but lately too many people have been asking when the heck I am going to get back to it. Point taken – time to reorganize my priority list.

Since I usually recruit talent for my teams, I often hear from acquaintances how they know someone “just so perfect, so well-rounded, so capable, so lacking of faults” that would be perfect for our startup world. These fantasy referrals often come from 1.) those who either worked for many big companies and are now “expats” from that world or 2.) from startuper/SMBers in denial about what it takes to survive in our world. So, let me share with you the core things I have learned during 14 years in startups – these well-rounded individuals with no faults, even if they existed, would not last a month in our companies. Why?

  • We are gluttons for failure. Building companies is ridiculously hard and only scientists have to deal with more disappointments. We have to handle more failures in one year than most big company types do in a decade.
  • Sane month, week, heck… how about just one day? What is that? There is a reason most people question our sanity. And yes, a good number of us “old” folks (read: not the usual stereotypical early 20-something many mistakenly think dominate our business demographic) still manage to figure out how to stay social, end up in a happy relationship with an understanding partner, and !GASP! have kids, but it’s tough.
  • True talent is a zero sum game. When you get a lot in one place, you end up missing a lot somewhere else. Rarely can someone really do it all. Loud and endlessly bragging marketing people do not surprise me. There is no room for shyness in marketing. Your top sales people will be the biggest PITAs because the best ones have huge support overhead, constantly break your processes, cause havoc in post-sales, and hell would freeze over before they swore off discounting. Techies… I will spare them, since so many have fragile egos.

I will go so far to say that if one is just too normal, too perfect, too sane, too well-rounded, too much of an “A-player” in our world, that person is likely absolutely incompetent yet highly skilled in the game of company politics and the art of corporate brown-nosing. I am often wrong, like anyone, but I am yet to see an exception.

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