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Startup Hiring: A Lesson from Paypal’s Founders

Pere Rigo | December 11, 2013

Recruiting is hard. But for startups it can be simple.

Early in Paypal’s existence, the founders – Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin among them – sat down and made a list of the 20 smartest people each of them knew. They then tried to hire everyone on the list. Legend has it that they managed to bring all but 6 people on board.

Simple, but not easy.

So, how do you recruit the smartest people you know?

First, get names on paper. This isn’t a list of all your friends. This is a list of the smartest, hardest working, capable, and driven folks you know.

Next, call, email, or meet with each of your people at least once a month.  When you reach out don’t just update. Get them involved. Ask for help and advice on specific challenges you’re facing. Get your people emotionally and psychologically invested in your venture. Asking great people to leave their other opportunities is hard. When it comes time to talk hiring having them “bought in” makes things that much easier.

Recruiting the smartest people you know takes time, effort and persistence.

It’s so much easier to post job descriptions or go to career fairs, meetups, and hackathons – even though your chance of finding and hiring people better than the ones you already know is almost nil. For many founders, consistently engaging the smartest people you know is hard because you are exposing your early stage venture, warts and all, to people you respect and look up to. Their opinion matters to you and potential rejection of what you’re spending every waking moment building hurts, personally. This is why most founders do the easy thing – even if it is complicated and has little chance of success – rather than the simple thing that is hard. But you simply can’t afford to take the easy road on this one.

There is no business endeavor where having the best possible people can make a bigger difference than in a startup. A founder can get a lot of things wrong and still succeed. Hiring the wrong people isn’t one of them.


About the Author

Pere Rigo, CEO of Proven Hires and Founder of Package Zen

Pere Rigo is the founder of Package Zen – a Chicago-based startup helping front desks, mailrooms, and doormen manage the more than 8 billion deliveries they receive every year.

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