The Right Hires Push Startups Forward Faster

The only thing you need to know about startup recruiting is that you want to attract people like Kevin Garnett to your team. When you find them, hire them. 

July 1 marked the beginning of the NBA’s free agency period. The courting of free agents is similar to recruiting to fill positions in a startup. Teams have specific needs. You have specific needs. While the Indiana Pacers should be looking for a new starting point guard, you might need to fill sales, business development, or mobile development positions. 

If you’re responsible for startup hiring, you want your team to be comprised of as many people who channel their inner Kevin Garnett as possible.

A Role Model Outside of Basketball

Kevin Garnett is a role model for everyone. He’s a 6’11” power forward voted to the NBA All-Start Game 15 times! (Despite this status, he was traded last week from Boston to Brooklyn). Brooklyn gained a first-ballot Hall of Famer who brings some personal attributes that are as valuable to sporting franchises as they are to startups:

1. He’s Really Good

This is important. Garnett has been a star since he was a high schooler in South Carolina. He combines above average talent, work ethic, hustle, a willingness to compete for every ball, and indefatigable passion. It’s a cocktail for success.

>>> Lesson for Startups: Hire smart people who’ll bring passion and fire.

2. He Really, Really Cares

This is more important. He doesn’t coast and he doesn’t take plays off. Boston had a very challenging 2012-2013 season, winning only one game more than it lost (41-40). There were some ugly defeats, and few athletes anywhere on the globe have more menacing scowls than Garnett’s in the fourth quarter of a blowout defeat. He really dislikes losing. 

>>> Lesson for Startups: “Go the extra mile.” It’s a cliché, but it’s also the difference between people who live off their job titles or something they did five years earlier, and people who will get the job done now.

3. He Leads by Example

Until his trade, Kevin Garnett was the heart of the Boston Celtics. He leads by example, like an old-school calvary general leading the charge. 

>>> Lesson for Startups: Even if you’re hiring for a junior position, look for candidates who have a pathological need to do a great job, regardless of the task.

4. He Demands Commitment From Coworkers

There is no “i” in team. Another well-trod cliché. Probably Garnett’s biggest contribution to a team, and the reason he continues to be a valuable asset in the twilight of his Hall of Fame-career is his ability to get teammates to raise their level of play. He’s old school in the manner of New York Rangers Captain Mark Messier. Had Garnett been on the Pacers this season, there is no way that Indiana would have lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. He would never have accepted the half-ass effort the Pacers demonstrated in games 5 and 7.

What Kevin Garnetts Will Do For Your Startup

Teammates with attributes similar to Kevin Garnett are what you need in early-stage startups. You need people who:

  • Are smart (or quick enough to figure out what needs to be done)
  • Hard working
  • Committed to success
  • Eager to join the journey on which your company has embarked 

You want people who will take the extra step, and do things that most times won’t earn them any recognition, a raise, or even an after-work beer. They’ll make a follow-up customer support call at night on their own time, they’ll ensure the service or app won’t choke after a future cover profile in Wired, and they’ll take ownership of success even if their equity share is well below 1%.

While the chances of success in a startup are improbable, they’re not impossible. Find people who bring to your company what Kevin Garnett has brought to NBA courts since 1995, and your chances soar. 

Takeaways for Startup Leaders

Look for people who:

  1. Own their effort.
  2. Take responsibility for their work.
  3. Raise the expectations of what’s expected and acceptable.
  4. Raise their teammates’ performance.
  5. Share the credit for the results when they’re good. 
  6. Own the result when it’s below expectations. 

Happy Recruiting!

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