How to Start A Startup Lecture: Company Culture and Building a Team: Part 2

Presenters: Patrick Collison; John Collison; Ben Silbermann

Company Culture:

  • What have they looked for when hiring the first employees?
    • Looked for people he wanted to work with AND he thinks are really talented.
    • Hiring isn’t like architecture, it is more like gardening: you plant things and pull out the weeds as you go
    • Curious, creative, brilliant, quirky, hobbies, people that want to build something great (bigger than themselves)
    • The first ten people will have the greatest impact on the company of any hires
    • You can usually relax one constraint. When you are in the early stages of a startup, you will likely have an issue getting ‘known’ talented people since you won’t normally be able to convince them away from their company.
    • Looked for people that were
      • genuine
      • caring
    • There is no ‘wrong’ place to hire people
    • You should have an elevator pitch for your recruiting efforts as well. When you run into someone at a coffee shop, etc.
    • You owe it to the company and to the person that if it is not working out, you fire them
    • How to hire
      • understand what is world class going before the interviews.
        • Key character traits and characteristics?
        • What skills are needed for the position
        • What questions should I be asking?
      • Good people want to answer difficult problems
      • Be very transparent about the potential pitfalls of the opportunity: example hiring for iPhone – you won’t see your family for 3 years.
    • Work with the people as much as possible before you hire them: 1 week in advance
      • “is this person the best out of their friends at what they do?”
    • People/media focus way too much about founders, most of what the company does is by everyone else.
    • Reference people they have worked with in the past: “Is this one of the top 1% (or 5%) of the people you have ever worked with?”
    • Don’t forget about the orientation process. Make sure you have a list of things people need to know 30/60/90 days in:
      • Have them doing real work quickly
      • Do they know the structure?
      • Do they know what they are meant to be working on?
      • Give them quick feedback – especially feedback on how to adapt to the culture
    • What are the biggest changes you have had to make as you scaled?
      • Trying to make it a startup of a lot of startups: autonomous groups
      • Time horizons change pretty quickly as you scale: after 1 year, you are thinking 1 year ahead, after 4 years, you should be thinking 4 years ahead.
      • You need to hire people that are effective immediately at first. In the longer term, you can afford to invest in people that might not necessarily have an immediate impact
    • There is always a gap between ‘where we are and where we should be’ and in Pinterest’s situation, it has continued to grow as the scope of the company has grown.
    • How to convince people that they will be working on something new and incredible.
      • No smart person you are hiring will believe that what you are doing is guaranteed to succeed. Tell them how this role in it will help you succeed.
      • Don’t whitewash the difficult things that will be involved in your startup.
    • To Pinterest – How has your user base influenced your hiring
      • Look for people that are ambitious about the mission
      • Find people that are passionate about your product – you will have a natural advantage over the competition


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