Hiring a big company exec for your startup?

Don Dodge · November 15, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/13b7

Fast-growing startups don't need experienced CEOs to run their company

Fast growing startups need experienced big company execs to take them to the next level, right? Wrong. Big company execs are wired differently than startup ninjas. My last post "Startups play poker, big companies play chess" explained how startups are different from big companies. This post is about how execs at startups are different from big company execs.

Big companies are complex, like chess. They have with multiple products, several strategies, competitors in different market segments, lots of employees, customers, and partners...all demanding time and attention. A big company exec has to juggle demands from all of these constituencies in addition to a mountain of email, meetings, phone calls, and travel. It is an enormous exercise in time optimization and prioritization. Everything comes to you.

Nothing comes to a startup. You have to make it happen. Go get it yourself. Startups are like playing poker. You start with nothing and try to build up your chip stash. No one is dying to talk to you. You don't have endless meetings about next years strategy, marketing budget, or headcount plans. Startups are all about raising money, hiring the team, delivering the product, and satisfying customers. Startup execs have a million things to do and they all look important. You have to choose to do the things that will kill you if they don't get done, versus optimizing strategy A versus B, C, or D. 

Startups are fun and exhilarating. Building something from nothing, solving a big problem, getting users and paying customers is awesome. But at some point your startup gets bigger, more employees, more customers, legal and financial issues, and infrastructure crap all take too much time. At this point your investors and advisors are telling you to bring in an experienced exec who has done this before. It feels like the right thing to do because you are overwhelmed, and don't like doing this stuff anyway. You want to get back to the real work of building the product. Be very careful about who you hire because they often fail.

Doing vs deciding. Big company execs have a staff, assistants and advisors. They get used to making decisions and thinking about strategy. They decide things, they don't do things. They are really good at organizational growth, goals and measurement, process improvement, communication, strategy, mission statements, etc. Barf! It makes me sick just thinking about this stuff. But, it is very important in big companies, and what those senior execs do well.

You will need some executive help at some point. So, here are some questions to ask when interviewing a big company exec.

  • What past accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • What roles have you done before that you don't want to do again?
  • What experience from your current role will be most helpful here?
  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • What are the most important things to get done in your first 6 months?
  • How do you think this role will be different from your current job?
  • One year from now how will you measure your success?

These questions get to the heart of what they think is important, what they will do, and how they will measure success. Look for what motivates them. Find out if they will roll up their sleeves and do real work. Make sure they get your vision and are excited about the opportunity.

(Image source: mychesseveryday)

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