For talented people, there’s always a better job out there. That’s not to say you don’t need to be competitive if you want to work with good people. But just striving to pay above-market salaries and provide great benefits doesn’t cut it. Actually it misses the point.
Yes, we do pay well and offer good benefits, for a startup and for a software company in general. But if a really capable, hardworking candidate looked me in the eye and asked, “Is this the best comp package I’ll find if I keep looking?,” I’d have to say no.
No matter how high you go, no matter how much runway you divert to making the un-refusable offer, there will always be someone who’s willing to go higher for the right person. And you only want to work with the right people.
When you’re recruiting, you have to appeal to something more
Step one is accepting the truth: The kind of people you want to work with can make more somewhere else. But there’s a step two too: For the kind of people you really want to work with, there’s not only a higher-paying but also a more interesting, more challenging job—at least on paper.
Again, this isn’t to say that you can be successful as a startup without offering interesting, challenging work. But when you’re trying to recruit the right people, you have to appeal to something even more. But what’s left?
The difference between a great job on paper and the job you take is team. More specifically, it’s the part of “team” that means something more more than just “group of people.”
A team is more than just a group of people
Instead of using a buzzword like “synergy,” let’s define this thing algebraically:
x = team – group of people
x is the thing that makes a team greater than the sum of its parts—that lets you accomplish something multiplicatively instead of just additively bigger and better together than apart.
x is what makes your offer really, truly better than any other offer out there. When x is part of the package, you can say, “With us, you’ll be more, and so will we.”
x is also very, very sensitive to the particular people involved. I’ve spent my first years as a founder, and really my life up to this point, thinking about who are the “best people” in an absolute sense. But finding and getting to yes with the right person is much more personal.
Now that I’ve solved for x, I’m going to spend more time enjoying (or trying to enjoy—you can’t force these things) a candidate’s company and less evaluating them. I’m going to make more gut decisions, and let my team weigh in with their gut as much as their heads. I’m going to ask not just what this person is capable of but what we’re all capable of together.
Building a team is no easy task, but it can be made easier by focusing on what’s important, and that’s what we can accomplish when we join forces with someone and they join forces with us.