Why Hiring the Best Can Make Your Startup Fail

July 29, 2013

1:00 pm

I once had a very successful startup founder say to me, “I don’t get it. I hired all of the smartest people I could find. And they all hate each other now.”

There’s a clear path to startup success: killer idea, strong funding, high growth, impressive valuation. But many startup founders get to that point and finally turn around and look at the company they’ve built with disappointment. The culture’s not there. Teamwork’s sorely lacking. And debates are getting more heated and more personal.

Your problem is that you’ve hired too many good people.

Founders often hire to one principle: get me the best. They want the programmer or developer with incredibly mad skills. The ones who are sought after by bigger, more established startups. The ones who are so good at what they do, founders let everything else slide.

There’s a risky proposition to hiring stars. When everyone walks in the door with an ego, it’s hard to make decisions. It’s hard to admit fault, failure, or average work. Even geniuses do average work sometimes. But in a room full of “the bests,” this means no one wants to fail in front of their peers. Everyone’s trying to best each other. Get the founder’s attention. Scream the loudest. And win.

And when each person tries to win individually, the whole of the startup fails. 

Sure, you might say you’re willing to sacrifice a happy workplace for the best work – you’re growing, after all, and it’s all about making money for your investors.

But do it at the expense of encouraging failure, teamwork and vulnerability, and you’ll end up with talented people who hate each other, care only about themselves, and will ultimately impact your vision and growth.  And no one’s ego – from founder to developer – is important enough to survive that.

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Susan Strayer LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo. She helps startup and high-growth companies develop cultures, build employer brands, and create talent strategies to help scale and grow businesses. Follow her @SusanLaMotte.

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