Edited excerpt from How to Make Better Reference Calls by Mark Suster:
You need to be careful about how you actually interpret references. If you get somebody who doesn’t say totally glowing things about your candidate:
- Think critically about whether that person may have biases that led him to the conclusions he has about your candidates;
- Ask other people about those specific qualities that the reference said weren’t good – even if you have to call back people with whom you’re already spoken;
- Understand whether any negative information is something that would stop you from wanting to hire the person. Everybody has weaknesses.
(1) Cf. A simple rule for interpreting references for a job candidate.
(2) “Understand whether any negative information is something that would stop you from wanting to hire the person” — cf. The goal of checking a job candidate’s references.
Edited excerpt from 3 Essential Steps to Doing a Thorough Reference Check by Jeff Markowitz:
It’s hard to predict anyone’s failure or success in a given role, but I’ve found that references tend to be overly kind during a reference call. Roughly speaking, if you downplay positive feedback by 30% and amplify negative feedback by the same amount, it should give you a pretty good picture of the candidate.
From Nine common things that start-up founders tend to underestimate or overestimate by Boris Wertz:
I’m always surprised at how often people still get hired without extensive reference checks. When you’ve got a good feeling about someone, it’s tempting to just move ahead without any kind of due diligence. But informal reference checks can be very revealing, particularly if you can talk to people that weren’t provided by the candidate, but know him or her very well.
(1) “People still get hired without extensive reference checks” — perhaps because “by the time the hiring manager is calling she is often already pre-disposed to hiring the candidate”. See The goal of checking a job candidate’s references.
(2) Re. “informal reference checks can be very revealing, particularly if you can talk to people that weren’t provided by the candidate” — see How do to reference checks: Mark Suster.
Edited excerpt from Anatomy Of A Reference Check by Tom Tunguz:
— Where does the referenced person shine? What kinds of work did the referenced prefer to do?
— What kinds of people does the referenced need around him/her to be successful?
— How is the referenced persuaded or convinced? What kinds of motivation does he/she respond best to?
— What is it like to work with the referenced day-to-day? How would you characterize your typical interactions?
— Would you hire or work with this person again? How highly do you regard this person? Top 25%, 10%, 5%, 1%?
(1) I’ve excerpted the questions which I think are most interesting. Tom’s post includes a complete check list of questions, and is worth reading.
(2) “Would you hire or work with this person again?”. This is similar to a question I asked when hiring senior people for Seeking Alpha: “If you were starting your own startup and you needed someone in this role, would you want this person to be part of your team?”.
Edited excerpt from The Simple Rules That Could Transform How You Launch Your Product by Brenden Mulligan:
Boil your product name down to two words max
Picture only being able to say a few words to potential users to convey what your product does. What would you say?
Summarize your product in ten words or less
If you can’t describe what your app does in ten words or less, something is off. Maybe you’re trying to launch too much at once. To troubleshoot and help economize your language, try asking yourself the following questions:
— What is the hallmark superpower of this product?
— What is the primary problem this product fixes?
— Who cares about the challenge that this product solves?
(1) That this is written about mobile apps. Is there any reason it shouldn’t apply to other products?
(2) Cf. Why messaging and positioning are fundamental to every startup’s success and The importance of product positioning, and how to get it right.
(3) “What is the primary problem this product fixes? Who cares about the challenge that this product solves?” — see Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done” and How to identify your customers’ “Job To Be Done”.
Excerpt from How to Make Better Reference Calls by Mark Suster:
Seek “disconfirming evidence”
The strange thing about most reference calls is that by the time the hiring manager is calling she is often already pre-disposed to hiring the candidate. Most people delay reference calls until that point both due to expediency of time (why make phone calls unless you think you might hire the person?) and in fairness to the employee (why call a bunch of people and then not hire him – leading others to wonder why he didn’t get the job?).
I agree with the goal of waiting until late in the process. But the problem is that by the time you actually call people you really WANT to hire the candidate. So often people who do reference calls ask softball questions. That’s not your job. Your job is to seek “disconfirming evidence” meaning you go in with the assumption that Stacy is great but you want to be sure there isn’t something you totally missed.
Edited excerpt from 3 Essential Steps to Doing a Thorough Reference Check by Jeff Markowitz:
Ask open-ended questions and get specific examples (e.g., “How would you describe the person’s leadership skills?”), not yes or no questions. Most importantly, don’t settle for vague answers such as “He/she is an experienced leader.” If you get an answer like that, ask the reference for an example of the candidate’s leadership skills in a specific situation. If the reference can’t think of one, then you should seriously question the relevancy of the reference.
As much as possible, always seek specific information about the candidate’s work and actions rather than generalities.
(1) “Ask open-ended questions” — this is one of the principles of asking questions generally. See How to ask great questions and Don’t ask multiple choice questions.
(2) “Always seek specific information about the candidate’s work and actions” — compare this to best practices in interviewing, in How to run a job interview.
Excerpt from Anatomy Of A Reference Check by Tom Tunguz:
Asking for weaknesses tends to put the referencer on the defensive, as if he or she is sharing something illicit. Instead, I ask the referencer the question below. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. And most jobs require teamwork. The best team members complement each other’s weaknesses. This is an indirect path at reaching the same answer. It doesn’t always work, but it’s my preferred route. I spend the most time of the interview on this question:
What kinds of people does the referenced need around him/her to be successful?
(1) Cf. Hanan Lifshitz’ approach: “After conducting dozens of reference checks filled with over-optimism, I found the best way for breaking through the praise is to say: “Listen, none of us are perfect; I have weaknesses, you have weaknesses, everyone has weaknesses… Now, what are John’s weaknesses?” At that point the truth almost always comes out.”
(2) Cf. Scott Cook’s method for finding out about someone’s weaknesses — see How do to reference checks: Scott Cook.
Edited comments from Matthew Crawford, quoted in In an age dominated by distractions, there are still reasons to focus:
Just as food engineers figured out how to create hyper-palatable foods by manipulating levels of salt, fat and sugar, there are some forms of media that have created hyper-palatable stimulation that seems to tap into something hard-wired in our brains.
Strategies for asceticism or self-regulation are having a renaissance right now – which is interesting because it’s not an idea that we associate with consumer capitalism. You can sign up for these services that will turn off your Wi-Fi for some particular period of time. People are finding ways to use technology to regulate themselves against the temptation to use more technology, which makes perfect sense.
But ultimately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to either liberate or self-regulate our way out of mental fragmentation. I think the remedy is rather to be absorbed in some worthy object that has intrinsic appeal, the kind that elicits our involvement in such a way that our mental energies get gathered to a point. And once that gets under way, I think it feels more like abandon than self-control. I work on motorcycles and make parts for them, and when I’m in the shop, hours go by without any sense of distraction. I get really, really into it.
(1) “There are some forms of media that have created hyper-palatable stimulation that seems to tap into something hard-wired in our brains.” As entrepreneurs, this is the explicit goal we strive for — to create highly addictive products. The exemplar is Facebook, which has crushed Twitter on frequency of use.
(2) But from a consumer’s perspective, having easy and constant access to addictive digital products is destructive. As Matthew Crawford writes elsewhere, “Just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”
(3) To achieve anything meaningful, we need to clear time for deep thinking. That is probably inconsistent with being a regular user of Facebook, Twitter, HN, Reddit etc. See Justin Musk’s description of How Elon Musk manages his time.
(4) As entrepreneurs, we need to ask ourselves whether the products we are building are good for users. Or are they the digital equivalent of heroin?
(5) Perhaps this question shouldn’t be binary, but about frequency of habit and usage. Seeking Alpha is a good thing — it helps you make better investment decisions, empowers you to think and decide for yourself, fosters open debate about stocks, and has created community and friendships for people who help each other with their investing. But is there a usage level above which it becomes negative? We’re nowhere near there yet — but would we have the courage to limit usage if we got there?
Edited excerpt from The Hacker’s Guide to Investors by by Paul Graham:
This is how most venture investors operate. They don’t try to look at something and predict whether it will take off. They win by noticing that something is taking off a little sooner than everyone else. That generates almost as good returns as actually being able to pick winners. They may have to pay a little more than they would if they got in at the very beginning, but only a little.
Investors always say what they really care about is the team. Actually what they care most about is your traffic, then what other investors think, then the team. If you don’t yet have any traffic, they fall back on number 2, what other investors think. And this, as you can imagine, produces wild oscillations in the “stock price” of a startup. One week everyone wants you, and they’re begging not to be cut out of the deal. But all it takes is for one big investor to cool on you, and the next week no one will return your phone calls. We regularly have startups go from hot to cold or cold to hot in a matter of days, and literally nothing has changed.
(1) Cf. There are only two ways to raise money for a startup.
(2) Implications for startups: Don’t raise money if you don’t have momentum in your key metrics, or you’re at an early enough stage that you can “sell the dream”.
(3) Cf. What one early stage VC looks for when he meets companies.