Why You Should Hire for Your Stage

March 3, 2020

If you haven’t already read the first five posts in this series on “Scaling Your Startup…Through Your Best Nature,” check ‘em out now. They begin here.

As a recap, I shared a framework for thinking about the best and worst in our own natures -- the Primitive Mind (or ego) and the Higher Mind (or spirit) -- and why managing this duality is critical for scaling our business through the three stages of a startup journey. Then I covered four examples of how our ego can get in the way of us scaling our company, and how our Higher Mind can come to the rescue.

In today’s post, we’ll continue to discuss what’s required to build our Go-to-Market Playbook in Stage 2 of the startup journey. Recall that in this stage, we want to create a set of go-to-market motions that match the market. We’re looking to create the playbook for how to deliver and monetize value in a predictable way. Specifically, we want to create the qualification criteria, the elevator pitch, the website messaging, the slide deck, the demo, the pricing, the onboarding process, the customer milestones, the definition of value, the renewal process, and everything else that goes into creating a customer journey from the start to renewal and beyond. 

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In this post, I’ll cover a second example of how channeling our higher nature can help us build the right Go-to-Market Playbook.

Example #2: How We View Our Executives

As you might expect, we think about our team members differently when our ego is involved.

The Primitive Mind: “Our company will outgrow most people we hire.”

The Higher Mind: “We need to ensure a fit between our executives and the stage of our company.” 

The first statement often comes from a place of ego, coming close to saying, “I’m objectively better than the people I hired” (unless we’re saying that we as the founder also don’t deserve to stay at the company…and that’s not often said!).

The second statement humbly recognizes that there are no universal standards for some people being “better” than others, but only differing degrees of alignment between an executive’s skill set and the needs of the company at that time.

We can think of our executives as “products” that need to match the needs of the “market,” our company. That clarity allows us to hire the right people at the right time, and come to mutual agreement with executives when their skills don’t line up with what the company needs – in which case those executives probably don’t want to be there, either. (Founders, too, often hate working at scaled companies.)

I've found that these are the attributes we should optimize for when hiring and setting expectations for team members in each stage:

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The biggest mistake that I see startups make is that they hire people from the “Scale” stage before they’ve built their Go-to-Market Playbook in the “Search for GTM-Market Fit” stage. We can’t hire a bunch of salespeople, marketers, or CSMs from a large company (which is likely to have much more structure and many more resources than we have) and expect them to meet their targets with minimal enablement. This is a recipe for failing to make our revenue growth target, while burning a lot of cash, and then having to let go all those people we just hired a few months earlier.

In particular, if we hire a “Scale” sales leader before we’ve actually built our GTM Playbook, we could waste a year or more of our time. Later we can go to our board and say, “It’s our Sales leader’s fault. They messed up.” But we’re the one who hired the wrong person for the job! That leader would have been a perfect fit if we were scaling, but we’re not doing that yet. We need to build our Playbook first.

In Stage 2 we should hire people who can help build the Go-to-Market Playbook. These are typically people who can detect patterns across many different data points -- including anecdotes from prospect calls and customer meetings, feedback from the market, metrics along the customer journey, web presence data, competitor messaging and progress, and other data points. 

They’ll notice, “I had three customer calls in which the client mentioned they had objective X. Interesting.” They’ll point out, “When I message our product this way, it tends to resonate.” They’ll observe, “We’ve received a few complaints about this part of our product, and the root cause is Y.” 

Then these Stage 2 people will create frameworks to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities along the customer journey. They’ll create a new slide for the pitch deck, propose new messaging for the website, or recommend a product enhancement. In general, they’ll create better ways of doing things, with urgency, and rally other people on the team around those new methods. 

If we hire only people like this in Stage 2, we’ll accelerate the creation of our GTM Playbook. What might have taken a couple of years or more -- and potentially false starts and layoffs -- could take just several months. 

Put differently, when we’re focused on creating our Playbook, we massively de-risk the business as we head into Stage 3, when we’ll be hiring a ton of people. 

Bottom line: Recognize that there are no universal A players but only people with strengths and weaknesses. If we can hire people who match the stage we’re in, we can give our business the best chance to scale.

In the next post in this series, we’ll discuss how to know when we’re ready to enter Stage 3, the “Scale” stage of the startup journey. A preview: Look to your cost of retention.