I did quite a bit of hiring (resulting in both successes and failures) through 2011.

As I’m gearing up for continuing to build our core team here at Tout, I thought it would be prudent to write down some lessons learned based on the things that worked well this year and the things that didn’t.

This is not meant to be a huge world-changing post by any means, just three simple things that I know I want to be more mindful about in the coming year. No big deal.

#1 – Growing the team does not necessarily mean you can do more things

Every time I brought someone on this year, I made them responsible for a specific “area” of the business and held them accountable for it with specific goals and metrics.

Sounds great right? Well yes, it does if you’re in a larger well established company (where I got all of my management training).

The interesting thing with Startups is that while we are doing a lot of things and wearing many hats — we’re not doing any of those things very well.

In fact, we’re barely grazing by, applying the 80/20 rule to the best of our abilities.

So what happened when I hired? I essentially spun up yet another thread thinking that another person is inherently growing the capacity of the whole organization.


In 2012, each hire I bring on is going to be designed (atleast initially) to help us do what we’re already doing better. I’ve already started to apply this principle with Amy, our new Happiness Officer, and I think its shaping up very nicely.

#2 – Saying something does not necessarily mean the other person agrees; Get in “hard sync”

I say this all the time: even with all the technology we have today, even though we’re more connected than ever before, we still suck at actually communicating.

Far too many times, we had issues where the conversation stalled at “Oh, I didn’t realize thats what you meant.” This happens when a team works out of the same office; but it happens 10x more often when a team is distributed.

The truth of the matter is, human beings naturally like to think what they want to think. They like to stick to their respective mental models.

As a manager, unless you force the conversation to get into hard sync¬†on what each person is saying and what they mean and what that looks like almost to a pedantic level — you’re guaranteed to have miscommunication.

In business, especially in Startups, you get a small handfull of do-oevers. So don’t risk miscommunication — get in hard sync.

#3 – There is only one expectation: Excellence

There are two ways of managing a team.

a) Get into a trap of micromanagement where you constantly have to set short term expectations and assign tasks.

b) Set a goal. Demand excellence. Enforce independent thinking.

Obviously you want the second. However, it is all to easy to degrade, get stressed, start thinking short term and move back to the first mode of operation.

I oscillated between the two through 2011 with different members of the team and finally realized that either I get each person in the team to operate in right way or we die.

This brings forward some hard decisions because you may find that while certain members of the team can do great things when micro-managed you literally can’t scale the company and take it to the next level if you have to do that — ergo, they are not the right fit.

I am far from cracking the recruitment puzzle or the building the team puzzle, but I think this insight helps: Hire people that can operate at the goal level and deliver excellence.

If you can’t find those people, then keep looking — don’t just hire for the short term.

As a Startup Founder, do you have any big lessons learned? Share your thoughts below.