Monday, September 28, 2009

Funding vs Hiring

From Hacker News,

"Candidate A is a great programmer. He is unbelievably fast, very creative, has a lot of knowledge. He sees a problem and has brilliant solutions at hand very quickly. He just gets it. But he is not a team player. He'll go off and do stuff his way without telling anyone. Nobody sees his code before he's done. He hates discussions. He might just ignore any decisions that were made. And you never know if he'll quit tomorrow.

Candidate B is not the most creative type. His code is acceptable but you can see his limited experience. He is still good and he certainly gets the job done but there's not much you can learn from him. But he's extremely reliable and very loyal. He's happy with any work that comes along. He's a very good team player. He will give his input but accept decisions once they're made. People enjoy working with him.

What would you do? Pass on both of them? Hire A? Hire B? Wait for somebody who is a programmer as A but as reliable as B (and risk waiting forever)?"

Paul Graham responds

"Incidentally, if you're funding rather than hiring, you generally want A. That's one reason I'd rather be an investor than a boss."

(Full Discussion here)

Paul makes a subtle point (beyond the hypothetical candidate selection).

Funders and bosses think, decide, and act differently. As do "BigCo" developers vs startup founders.

Bosses want to control (or "boss around" ) their subordinates. Funders want to maximize chances of success. These are not necessarily identical, or even congruent forces.

I was thinking of a "startup within BigCo" effort I was (briefly) part of and one of the fundamental mistakes made was that no one really acted like a founder or (more importantly) a funder.

Talented (if not particularly aggressive) people, lots of money. One Year. Lots of meetings (Oh God were there meetings! We had meetings about meetings. Meetings to report results of *other* meetings. Meetings to discuss the agenda of forthcoming meetings...).

No product. No revenue. Lots of PowerPoint.

Lots of hope.

My prediction? This effort will meander along for another year or so, produce some tiny revenue streams (eventually) and then die a quiet death. Which is a tragedy. The people involved (with a couple of exceptions) were all great and I would work with any of them again in a heartbeat. The system was self defeating.

PG nails it (again).


Venkatesh Sellappa said...


I read through that whole discussion on HN as well and was quite surprised that the majority of the respondents trended towards B. That kept bothering me. Why would a startup not want the sharpest weapon in the arsenal ?
After reading here i realized most respondents were still looking at it from the standpoint of hiring for a Big CO, where fitting in is more important than almost anything else, hence B.
Duh, but I guess, not everyone on HN looks at startups being fundamentally different from Big CO.

Franco Martinig said...

Maybe you should hire an agile coach for your "startup within BigCo" to get it focused ;o) Just (partially) kidding, but in organizations you need as much people who are able to "manage" projects and people than brilliant programmers...