How to hire senior executives for your startup

From The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

If you’ve never done the job yourself, how do you hire someone good?

Step 1: Know what you want
Resist the temptation to educate yourself simply by interviewing candidates. The very best way to know what you want is to act in the role. Often, CEOs resist acting in functional roles because they worry that they lack the appropriate knowledge. This worry is precisely why you should act — to get the appropriate knowledge.

It also helps greatly to bring in domain experts.

Finally, be clear in your own mind about your expectations for this person upon joining your company. What will this person do in the first 30 days? Do you want them to build a large organization right away or hire only one or two people over the next year?

Step 2: Run a process that figures out the right match
Write down the strengths you want and the weaknesses that you are willing to tolerate. Develop questions that test for the criteria. Assemble the interview team. And get backdoor and front-door references.

Step 3: Make a lonely decision
The ultimate decision should be made solo. Only the CEO has comprehensive knowledge of the criteria, the rationale for the criteria, all of the feedback from interviewers and references, and the relative importance of the various stakeholders. Consensus decisions about executives almost always sway the process away from strengths and toward lack of weakness.

6 thoughts on “How to hire senior executives for your startup

  1. I don’t understand the rationale behind step 3. “Consensus decisions about executives almost always sway the process away from strengths and toward lack of weakness.” It seems to me that is more a statement about Ben’s ability to hone in on strengths and his perception that other potential “partners” would focus on weakness negation. In a situation where the CEO is less demanding/decisive than his collaborators, it might have the opposite effect. I agree with the underlying point, but would have made less assumptions. “Only the direct manager understands what he needs in a report. Consensus decisions run the risk of leading the key stakeholder to make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.”

    • Good point. Ben seems to assume that if you get more people involved in the process, you’ll end up with a ‘lowest common denominator” type selection process. But perhaps that’s not the case.

      • Having said that, I still think that, as with anything that matters, there must be a clear “owner”. And for any hire, it has to the person they’ll report to.

  2. regarding step 3, Consensus decision means no one is accountable because everyone is accountable.

    I am reminded of “The Surpremes” West Wing episode. Consensus dictates a safe judicial nominee who can please everyone. Only problem is that those nominees are just good enough not to stir the pot.

  3. Pingback: If you fired a senior executive, identify from this list what went wrong | A Founder's Notebook

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