How to support your local entrepreneurial ecosystem

I’ve been thinking a lot about Memphis lately. Where it is, where it’s been, and where it might go. What I think should be done to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem here is perhaps a post for another day. Today though I thought I’d share a few words about how to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem. No doubt this applies in Memphis, but I’ll try to leave it general enough to apply to most any growing ecosystem. I’ll try to limit things to five general themes:

Theme One: Be Successful

Brad (my cofounder) and I talk a lot about how we might help Memphis. We do a lot of small things that we hope add up. We both serve as mentors to local entrepreneurs and lead user groups, but we always come back to the same general idea: the best thing we can do for Memphis is to become wildly successful. Doing that will bring in more investors and more interest, more jobs, and even a couple new angel investors. This goal trumps all the others, as it should. If our efforts to be successful leave us no time for all of the other stuff, then so be it.

This should be paramount for you and your company too. If you have to move to be successful, then move (but come back and invest later). If you have to put another company out of business to be successful, then do it. If taking advantage of some opportunity means others won’t have the chance, that’s okay too. It’s okay to be competitive. It’s okay to want to be better than the next guy. The success of your company is what matters most. Never forget that.

Theme Two: Give Time

I’d love to give money to my local ecosystem, but as a poor entrepreneur I just can’t afford it. What I can afford is my time, and I’d like to think that in some ways that is more valuable to local entrepreneurs. My office is always open, and my phone is always on, and I’m happy to give local entrepreneurs an earful (and often more than they bargained for) anytime they ask. Brad leads the local Python user group, and I lead the local Startup Meetup. It’s something we both do for fun, but we also do it because we feel obligated to give back to a community that has given us a bunch and that continues to support us.

Giving your time means a lot to local entrepreneurs—especially those who are just starting out. You don’t have to lead a startup meetup. Just make it a priority to attend once a month. Email startup CEOs and offer your help. It only takes a little while, and the good karma you’ll earn is totally worth it. Do what you can. Every little bit counts, and giving something, no matter how little, is always better than giving nothing.

Theme Three: Be Honest In Your Support

So here comes the first controversial part of this post. Truth is, I don’t think supporting local startups means blowing smoke up their asses. I’m a big fan of honesty, and if a local company has a terrible business model or distribution model or team then the fact that they’re local shouldn’t preclude you from saying so. In fact, I think you’re more obligated to say something if they’re local. It’s what I give, and it’s what I expect from the people I really respect.

I gave a little talk during the Seed Hatchery demo day last year. I won’t bore you with the details, but the general theme was that the companies at demo day weren’t competing with Memphis companies, or even Tennessee companies. They were competing with every company everywhere. If we didn’t treat them accordingly, then we were doing them a disservice. I’m hard on the local companies I mentor. I don’t call them out publicly, but in private I do as much as I can to convince them that this isn’t a mutual admiration society. You can’t build an ecosystem by calling a local company awesome when it’s clear to everyone else that it’s not. It just doesn’t work that way.

Theme Four: Pay and Get Paid

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a founder was thinking that someone deserves some kind of discount or special recognition because he or she is a friend. That should never be the case. If a local company does awesome work and they charge companies $150/hr for it, then I expect to pay $150/hr. I honestly don’t care if the company is in Memphis or even if it’s run by my mother or my spouse. If the service is valuable to me, I expect to pay for it. If it’s not, and the company happens to be local, then I’ll take the time to tell them why, and if they correct the issue, I’ll pay for their service then.

Now (but not always) I feel the same way about the services I provide. I trade value for value. I have something valuable, and I expect companies to pay for it. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business. The only time we consider offering some discount for our services is when working with some company at a discounted rate is somehow highly valuable to us through the association. Despite the fact that they have millions more dollars than all of my local startups combined, I’m more likely to work with some company like Facebook at a discount than I am to discount our rate for a local company. I want to establish my value, and one of the most important places to do that is in my own hometown. 

Theme Five: Talking Shit Hurts You More

It’s important to be proud of your city. The best way to show that pride is to talk about all the wonderful things your city is doing to support entrepreneurship. The worst way is to talk trash about other cities or other ecosystems. I’ve heard people say things along the lines of “our city is better than Silicon Valley because….” When I hear that, I almost immediately assume the person saying it is an idiot. Your city is not better than Silicon Valley. That’s why you’re comparing it to Silicon Valley. If your city was better than Silicon Valley, in any way whatsoever, then they would be comparing themselves to you. Honestly, the same goes for any criticism of another ecosystem. If you’re talking shit about them, then you’re wasting time you could be spending making your city better.

On the other hand, I happen to think that it’s completely okay to criticize your own ecosystem, and even startups or leaders within it. But, if you do, make sure you’re actually talking directly to the person or company in question. If they can’t take it then they probably need to hear it even more. And nothing sucks worse than hearing criticism second hand—I’ve had more than my fair share of second hand criticism and it sucks way worse than hearing it from the source.

Okay, I promised five themes, so I’m going to leave it at that. What do you think? Do you disagree with anything I’ve said? Do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear it!


Lessons from the trough of sorrow

Note: For the uninitiated, the trough of sorrow was a term coined by Paul Graham to describe those companies that are sloughing through before they become “overnight” successes. Fred Wilson gives a pretty good overview (and some good advice on how to make it to the other side) here.


The last few months have been a real battle for us here at Work for Pie. We’ve been digging out from under a few mistakes, and we’re really working hard to make Work for Pie and Kufikia awesome and successful. I thought I’d share a few lessons from the experience so far:

  • The second you outsource something, it goes out of your control. You better make damn sure that the folks who do the work are really, really good. Yes, they do work you can’t or don’t want to do, but they also represent your brand. Make sure they represent it well.
  • One victory is enough to make up for 1,000 defeats, which is good, because there will be tons of fucking defeats. You’ll take the defeats personally. You won’t be able to avoid it. Take the victories personally too.
  • Sales is really fucking hard. A lot of startups focus on product when they should be focusing on sales.
  • The absolute best training for a “business guy” cofounder, in my opinion, is to attempt to sell something on your own with no leads and no brand recognition. Doing it and figuring it out is hard. Dealing with constant, regular rejection is harder.
  • Sales is about treating folks on the other side of the transaction like they’re human beings with their own problems. Don’t blast email. Study them and their companies, find some common ground, open with that, and then talk about your product.
  • Email templates, even when personalized, got us a reply maybe 1 out of ten or twenty times. Taking time and actually giving a damn got us closer to 5 out of 10. It’s worth the effort, and you’ll learn about a lot of cool people and companies while you’re at it.
  • Handwritten notes sent via snail mail get a reply rate of at least 50%, even if they go to seemingly inaccessible people. As long as the notes are honest and thoughtful. That’s really the point.
  • If you want to focus on “growth,” then absolutely drill down on every action your users take, and ask yourself if it’s optimized for growth. Is it as easy as it can possibly be? Is the barrier to entry as low as it can possibly be? Is it compelling? Is it easy to share?
  • Focus on one, and an absolute max of two metrics. Trying to grow everything won’t work.
  • Focus on one, and an absolute max of two social channels. Do those really well and forget about the rest. Don’t try to do twitter, and Facebook, and content creation, and community participation, etc.
  • Make small, incremental improvements quickly. Tell your users about the changes. Give them a reason to come back to the site and be impressed.
  • Work your ass off, but when you step away, really step away. No electronics, email, or anything else. It’s the only way to really refresh.

Okay, I think that’s enough. What’s your advice? Did I miss something?

I need a CRM that I’m not sure exists

Lately, I’ve been frustrated. I like to work a certain way, and technology, for once, is getting in my way. I’m doing initial outreach for Kufikia (our continuing education for developers project), and I’d like to be able to work with a CRM to keep up with contacts and opportunities. Problem is, I haven’t yet found one that works well for me. I’m kinda trying to figure out if I’m the only one who works the way I do, or if other people work the same way and have either found a solution or are as frustrated as I am. So here’s what I like and how I work:

  1. I do most of my customer outreach via email. I’ll occasionally make a phone call, but typically that happens after initial outreach and even after a few follow-ups
  2. I don’t do blasts. I will use templates, but I try to personalize each email in some way. I like tools like Rapportive for doing this—I can take a look at the person’s twitter, etc., and get a feel for what they’re up to.
  3. I like to follow up. First emails, especially when cold, don’t often do the trick. I like to make sure I follow up at least a couple times before I give up on the potential customer.

To me, all of this seems perfectly normal and I imagine is the way most people do outreach. Maybe not? So here’s what I would like to see in a CRM to make the process above super awesome:

  • I don’t necessarily have to have email built into the CRM, but if I do, make it as easy to use as gmail. When I type a name, give me their Rapportive details so I can do a little research.
  • Give me templates like the awesome Yesware.
  • Give me tracking too. Even more awesome would be event tracking like the folks at Toutapp do. I’d love to know no only who is opening my email, but who is clicking on the links I provide.
  • I actually prefer gmail, and the whole bcc to CRM thing isn’t so bad, except that usually it’s super dumb. I’d like to be able to BCC to an address for one category of opportunity and to another address for another category of opportunity. Here’s how it might work: I’m doing initial outreach for new customers. I’m sending maybe 30 emails and they are all of them are the same category of opportunity. Let me bcc to a certain email address that tells the CRM “oh, this is for the customer outreach, let me add it to this category.”
  • While you’re at it, CRM, how about get smart about the emails I send. If I email someone new and bcc the CRM, automatically set up a contact and then assume that the handle ( or whatever) is the company. I’d much rather correct the occasional mistake than have to create a new contact every single time I email someone new.
  • Finally, don’t give me a single “track” for outreach. It never happens the way it’s supposed to. So give me initial outreach, and then let me choose a next step based on whether I get a response. No response? Follow up in a week. Response? Move from prospect to champion and do what needs to be done from there.

So, am I just using these things wrong? Is there something I could do or a product I could try to make my life a little easier?

Of all I’ve tried, I probably prefer the Capsule CRM, but I still have to do a tremendous amount of extra work for it to work for me. I sure wish these things were smarter. Maybe that’s my next startup…

Why Recruiters Exist (and what to do about it)

Almost every week, like clockwork, there’s a recruiter hating blog post that hits the HN front page. The reasons are all the same and well documented. Recruiters—the worst of them anyway—are clueless, they’re ruthless, and they’re among the worst spammers and scammers around.

We’ve heard some of the ridiculousness from both sides. We’ve heard from company owners, partners, and CEOs who fork over $20k or more for a recruiter, only to have that same recruiter poach away his placement mere months later. And we’ve heard from software developers whose resumes have been altered—without their knowledge—in an attempt to place them in a job for which they’re not qualified and not interested.

So they’re not the most effective tool for companies, they certainly haven’t earned the trust and respect of developers, and they’re inordinately expensive. It’s been this way for years. They shouldn’t exist anymore. Yet they do.

It’s high time we tried to understand why.

Employees aren’t loyal anymore, and (many) companies aren’t doing much to change that

The loyalty we once held for our employers doesn’t exist anymore. It disappeared around the same time the pensions disappeared (for readers under 30, a pension was a kind of retirement fund, the benefits of which were, for the most part, guaranteed if you put in your time and reached a certain age).

There are lots of reasons for this. These days we’re lucky if a company exists for more than five years—so oftentimes we’re switching jobs out of necessity. We’re no longer tied down or obligated to a company because of an unvested pension. We actually enjoy new challenges and changes of environment. And—I suspect this is the big one—many of us inherently realize that in this day and age the best way to move up is to move out.

My pre-startup days story is, I imagine, pretty common. Back in 2007 I started work with a well-respected Fortune 500 company for a decent salary, signing bonus, and benefits. They even threw in moving expenses. Six months later I had my first year-end evaluation, which wasn’t great due to the fact that I had only been in the job for six months (ironically—they cared deeply about on the job experience). Then in 2008 our salaries, benefits, and 401k match were cut significantly. In 2009 I earned my first promotion, which got me to a salary that was 2.5% higher than my original one. Including benefits and bonuses, it was more than 5% lower.

This company lost me and a lot of other promising, experienced, and ambitious employees for less than what it cost them to replace us. It happens all the time.

So the lack of loyalty and the lack of effort to change that results in more frequent turnover, which results in companies scrambling to replace increasing numbers of departing employees, which can (and so far does) result in more recruiters.

Recruiting and hiring isn’t considered a core activity

Good business practice these days tells us that if something isn’t at the very core of what you do as a company, you should be outsourcing it. This generally makes a lot of sense. No reason you should be running your own servers when the good folks at Rackspace, Heroku, Amazon, Gondor, etc. can take that little duty off your hands. No reason to mess with things like payroll, accounting, tax prep, etc. if they can be taken care of for a small(ish) fee.

The general equation is that if the cost of the service is less expensive than the price of the time you’re saving by outsourcing, and if the activity isn’t considered core to what you do, you should outsource. So, setting up, running, and maintaining your own servers is very time consuming. Rackspace, etc. is inexpensive. Servers aren’t core to what you do. Go with Rackspace.

With recruiting and hiring, though, things get a little tricky. In the information age—at a time when the quality of your product is directly related to the competence and ability of your team—it’s really hard to argue that “people” isn’t a core activity. The problem, though, is that people often confuse core activity with core competence.

The decisions that are made around things that are core activities but not core competencies have a tendency to really make or break companies. The original Digg was built with outsourced development help, but so were countless failed startups who were run by “idea men” with no technical skills. The same kind of thing happens with design, sales, and recruiting. It rarely works out. Putting a core piece of your company into someone else’s hands is a huge risk.

So with recruiting, we outsource either because we don’t consider “people” a core activity, or because we don’t think it’s worth hiring for or learning ourselves.

Recruiting is still seen as something that happens only when it’s needed

Okay, so let’s assume that we run a company that doesn’t suffer from either of the two issues above. We’ve somehow figured out how to make employees more loyal, and we consider “people” a core activity and know it well. Do recruiters still exist? Are they still a necessary evil?


Why? Because recruiting is seen by most as an “as needed” activity.

Companies are like cars. There are some things that need to be constantly maintained to keep things running smoothly—we need to change the oil to prevent breakdown, we need to keep gas in the car to keep the engine running, etc. Then, there are things we don’t worry about until they break, like the headlamps.

A lot of companies look at hiring like we look at our headlamps. There’s no reason to think about them until there’s a need. During the industrial revolution this probably wasn’t a bad analogy. If one headlamp burnt out, it didn’t render the company inoperable and the whole thing could get by for a little while until a replacement was found.

These days, though, an employee is more like a tire. She is imperative to the operation of the entire company. Without her or a similar replacement, the company grinds to a halt or, at the very least, limps around at a much reduced speed.

So here we are, all driving our cars out in the middle of nowhere, with bumpy roads and who knows what in front of us, and we’re not even carrying spares. And the guy with all the tires charges a shitload for them, and we pay, even if they aren’t great, because we need the tires to get home.

People have been preaching the concept of “building a bench” of qualified, enthusiastic potential employees for a long time. It’s the single best way I can think of to eradicate outside recruiters and all their associated bad will and cost once and for all. But it’s hard. It’s hard enough to think of recruiting as something that requires effort even (especially) when you’re not hiring. It’s even harder to actually put that effort in.

How to help - for developers and other job seekers

1) Determine the value of your loyalty.

Here’s a little secret. I would have taken less money to stay at the job I left than I was offered at the job I left for. I partly blame myself. I wasn’t as straightforward about expectations as I could have been. In hindsight, I realized that things like challenge, continual growth, and excitement were much more important than money anyway.

Easier to do in hindsight than it is right now, but try this. Decide where you want to be five years from now, and decide if your current employer is capable of getting you there. If they are, then tell them about the plan and let them help you. If they are not, then leave. Now.

2) Plan ahead - job search is not an as needed activity.

So the only time we really try to align our competence with our job is the day we graduate college or grad school. At that point it’s “I have a CS degree, I want to do entry level Python at some place where I can wear flip-flops to work, so let’s go.” From that point forward, job search is often reactionary. “I don’t like my job, so it’s time to find a new one. What skills do I have?”

Wouldn’t it be better if the college method was applied to mid-career job search? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you always had a few great “spares” that could be pulled out in the event of a layoff or company decline? Average turnover for a tech job these days is something like two years. If, one year into a new gig, you started planning for the next one, that would be a great thing to do. Discover the dream job (maybe even in your existing company), train for it, get to know the folks who do the hiring for it, and then, when you’re ready to jump, you’ll really be ready.   

How to help - for companies

1) Be a great company.

My advice almost always starts with this. Being a great place to work—one that challenges and empowers employees, that pays them well, that helps them achieve their career goals, and that values them and their experience more than anything—is the best way to improve loyalty. The math works out too. The cost of replacing an employee—recruiting, interviews, relocation, training, etc.—can run upwards of $100k or more depending on the level of employee. The cost of retaining an employee is less than this. Always.

Remember that oftentimes by the time an employee comes to tell you he’s leaving it’s too late to retain him. The reasons are both practical and psychological. The solution is an honest and open workplace that encourages even tough dialogue. Make sure that’s the kind of place you run.

2) Be a great recruiter

Recruiting is hard, but it’s not impossible. It requires some deep thought about the environment you’ve built and the environment you want to build, and it requires some strategy, but that kind of stuff isn’t rocket science. I wrote a guest piece for The Next Web with some tips. Start there and you’ll be ahead of most.

3) Build a bench. Recruit when you don’t have to.

The very best way to avoid hiring recruiters is to never need them. The best way to do that is to build a bench of recruits on your own. When you think about it, that’s what you’re paying for when you hire a recruiter. For your $20k or more, you expect him to produce a list of competent potential employees from which to hire. Build a list on your own, and you avoid that cost altogether.

Best way to start is to build a process. Every contact from a meetup or conference should get a follow-up email with details about the company. Every twitter follower and facebook friend should be researched to determine if they’re worth following up with. Build an internal open source project or two, and stay in touch with watchers, forkers, and pull requesters. Write an engineering blog and have an email capture associated with it. Do all the things!™

Seriously, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. It’ll pay dividends when you’re actually ready to hire. Just remember to make sure that in eliminating the enemy you don’t become the enemy yourself. Respect folks’ privacy. It’s completely okay—for most developers—to hear more about a company or topic that interests them. But the gap between that and spam can sometimes be narrow. Don’t cross it.

Okay, hope that helps. If you’re reading this from the states, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

My company is Work for Pie. We help companies do recruiting better (without the recruiters). Reach out to or go to for more information.

It’s All Worth It

Every now and again, on Facebook or Twitter, I see those motivational posts about life. My favorite probably comes from Hunter S. Thompson: 

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

I like that. Probably because I’ve read Hunter S. Thompson and know a little about what the guy was talking about. To be honest, I’m fairly certain that if most of the nice southern ladies who post that quote knew the kinds of activities Thompson was referring to, they’d likely be mortified. 

What surprises me, but probably shouldn’t, is that for most who proclaim it, that quotation is really just wishful thinking. It’s one of those little lies we tell ourselves because the truth is too, well, real…

Some context:

I was up late reading a few evenings back and happened upon this article. In it, a deathbed nurse revealed the top five regrets of the dying. They are:

1)  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

A bit depressing, eh? Except that all of those deathbed regrets are solvable, and you, and I, and everyone who reads this is still alive to do something about it. So maybe we’re all in denial. Maybe our way of coping with that denial is by posting Hunter S. Thompson quotes on our Facebook pages. Actually living the quote would eliminate most of the regrets, but living the quote is hard.

What’s interesting about the regrets is that at least two of them, and maybe more depending on your interpretation, are related to fear. We red-blooded Americans don’t like to admit that we compromise because of fear, but fear—fear of the unknown, fear of the consequences, fear of the worst case scenario—is often what holds us back. There’s no cloud of smoke and the end of most of our lives. It’s just too scary.

So I’m running this startup and I decided to step away from a stable job with stable income and health insurance and a 401k. I had a six months pregnant wife, a mortgage, and mortgage-sized student loan bills. There was a lot of fear to overcome in making that decision. And now—at a time where the rubber is starting to hit the road and at a time where our success over the next few months will absolutely determine my fate as a founder and our fate as a company—there’s more fear than ever.

But it’s all worth it. Damn it’s hard to say that some days, but it’s completely true. I may crash and burn and it may take some time to rise from the ashes if I do, but even if that worst case scenario outcome happens, taking this shot will have been worth every stomach turning late night and every single setback and all the disappointments and all the rest of it. Every minute has been worth it, and every minute going forward will be worth it. I’ve been skidding broadside since mid-May, and I’m loving it. 

Because, some days, people use something we’ve built to make their world better, and when that happens I’m almost as happy as I can possibly be. It’ll never compare to my hearing my daughter laugh, or my wedding day or her birthday, but it’s up there. And every single day of my life I get to be completely honest with myself and those around me. I say what I feel, and work (most days) doesn’t even feel like work.

I’m knocking those deathbed regrets off the list one by one. It feels great.

So what’s the downside? Well, the downside—at least at the outset—is that there’s a good chance you’ll fail. That’s the reality that holds most people back. And it’s a worthy fear, which is exactly why I used the word you rather than I in that sentence. I can’t even bring myself to say that I might fail. Because I won’t… :)

And it’s all hard. It’s really fucking hard. The work itself isn’t hard most days, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a lot of it.

Mostly though, it’s the psychology that’s hard. You’re up one day and down the next, and that emotional roller coaster can get the best of you. You have to be hyper sensitive and thick-skinned at the same time. You have to be super passionate about a product one day and be willing to let it go the next. You have to learn how to take criticism, all the time, to a degree you will never face in another profession or career (except perhaps college football coach). You have to defend your product to your dying breath in front of investors, and not be defensive at all in front of your customers. You have to be a visionary but be willing to change your mind. And you have to make choices—choices that affect real lives, including your own.

But at the end of the day it’s worth it. It’s all worth it. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I don’t want to. 

Recruiting for Fit in your Startup

I’m Cliff McKinney, and my company is called Work for Pie. We’re changing recruiting by giving companies a platform by which they can recruit with their culture, not with their job requirements. You can learn more here.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Bill Cosby

I met my wife via eHarmony, so I have a fair amount of experience with and respect for their method. What I like the most is that there’s not much room for fluff. While some of their competitors allow you to say just about anything to lure in new dates, eHarmony has this quiz system that you can’t really escape. It didn’t matter who you wanted to be, or how you wanted others see you, because this quiz showed your potential mates who you really were.

But what was great about that was that your potential mates were faced with that reality early on, and if they were attracted to it then the relationship worked. There were no pretenses. It was “these are my good parts, and these are my flaws, and these are my preferences—take it or leave it.”

Unfortunately, a lot of employers make the mistake of crafting their recruiting messaging in a way that’s designed to attract everyone. They don’t want to miss out on good opportunities, so they don’t take a stance. But that’s absolutely the wrong way to think about it. The best companies recognize that their culture, their environment, and their way of doing things is completely unique, and they celebrate it. They know it defines who they are, and they also recognize that if they miss out on a good candidate because he or she doesn’t dig the culture, then they probably weren’t such a good candidate after all.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Winston Churchill

So, how do you figure out what drives your company? The short answer is that it’s really hard—and it’s especially hard when you’re a tiny little company with a tiny little team. But it’s hugely important. That tiny little company stage is the most critical when it comes to defining your culture. Every new team member introduces the possibility of mucking it up.

One way to start is by naming your enemies and defining what you really dislike. Apple is the one of the biggest companies of all time, but they’re not big because they tried to please everyone or because, despite their hippy origins, they preached a message of loving thy neighbor. Steve Jobs was great at making enemies and calling them out. IBM wasn’t a computer company, they were Big Brother.

Steve gives IBM the bird

And Apple… Apple was the opposite of Big Brother. Apple stood against something, which means they stood for something. And by standing for something they cultivated loyalty that borders on insanity—with those early employees, and with their customers. There aren’t a lot of Microsoft or IBM fanatics, except for maybe Steve Balmer, yet I type this on my Macbook Air, read it on my iPad, email it with my iPhone, and listen to it on one of my three different iPods. And I’m one of millions of people who all do the very same thing. Those early Apple employees slaved away and occasionally suffered a lot of abuse, but most remained loyal to Steve Jobs despite those issues. He stood for something, and they were drawn in. 

Having an enemy helps define who you are. Understand this though. The enemy isn’t the enemy because they’re your main competitor. The enemy isn’t the enemy because you’re trying to disrupt an industry that they dominate. That’s a branding position, but not necessarily culture. We see this mistake in a lot of job listings:

“Come join us as we take on Company X and disrupt the CRM industry with science and paint guns!”

This doesn’t work. It takes a stance, but doesn’t tell you why. It’s big and it’s bold, but it lacks true personality and then tries to fake it with things that sound vaguely geeky.

The enemy is the enemy because they stand for something that is in direct opposition to what you stand for. They stand for stability, and you stand for shaking up the status quo. They stand for loyalty and legacy, and you stand for new blood and fresh ideas. They stand for profits before people, and you stand for profits because of people.

Job listings with that kind of conviction look a bit more like this:

“We’re Company X. We build y and we’re disrupting industry z. We’re not your average z company. They stand for stability. We hate the status quo. They put profits before people. We think that treating people right leads to more profits. If those are the kinds of things you care about, we invite you to join us.”

See the difference? This one has cultural queues, not just bold statements. If I’m a guy who likes stability, I’ll probably avoid this place, and that’s okay, because this place is filtering for risk takers. And if I lean toward heartless aggressive capitalist, I’ll likely avoid this place too, but that’s okay, because this place is clearly looking for people who love people first.

Are any one of these statements completely unique to this company? No. But, at the very least, they do a really good job of filtering out the people they’re not looking for. Do that, and you’ll be doing better than most.

Join the discussion on Hacker News

PS - if you really want to show job candidates your culture and your team, then job boards probably aren’t the best place to do it. Consider Work for Pie instead. :)

Fit is Everything

Attracting and hiring team members who fit your culture is one of the most important things you can do as a company. Ability is important, but fit is more important. Folks that fit are more productive, they are more likely to be evangelists for your company, and they are more likely to be happy with their jobs. 

John Sculley
Remember that guy in the middle? Don’t hire that guy and then let him fire the guy on the left. Even if he has amazing credentials. Don’t do that. Because your company—especially at the earliest stages—will absolutely be defined by the people in it. You don’t want to spend the next ten years slowly coming to terms with the colossal mistake you made.

People we admire agree:

“I find that cultural fit is often a stronger predictor of success than mad programming chops”

- Jeff Atwood via Coding Horror

“Early on we made a few hires for their skills with little regard to how they’d fit into the culture of the company or if they understood the philosophy. Naturally, those hires didn’t work out. So while we care about the skills of a potential employees, whether or not they “get” us is a major part too.”

- The Github Founders via 37 Signals Blog

Hiring for fit is incredibly hard, but one of the best ways to do it is by hiring from a pool of existing fans:

“You should try like hell to hire from your community (of users) whenever possible. These are the folks who were naturally drawn to what you do, that were pulled into the gravitational well of your company completely of their own accord. The odds of these candidates being a good cultural fit are abnormally high. That’s what you want!”

- Jeff Atwood via Coding Horror

That’s where Work for Pie comes in. Not every company has a ready-made community like Github or Stack Overflow, but every company has the opportunity to attract and grow their fan base via Work for Pie. This is one of the reasons our company profiles have a follow button. Folks clicking “apply” is awesome, but folks clicking “follow” is just as awesome. It’s a beginning, and it’s a much sweeter beginning than getting some resume that you know was blasted to forty companies before it hit your inbox.

We want to change the way this recruiting and hiring thing works. We’re doing it because we think great companies deserve great employees and because great people deserve jobs they absolutely love. If we’re able to give great companies a chance to hire away the employees of companies that aren’t, then we’ll consider ourselves a success. If we happen to make a few companies much better places to work in the process, then that’s even better.

A Quick Thought on Job Boards and Dating Websites

I met my wife on eHarmony. She’s awesome, and we’re super compatible. I thank my lucky stars that eHarmony made it possible for us to meet.

That got me thinking…

What if there were a dating site that were a kind of anti-eHarmony. One that told you everything about a potential mate except the stuff that’s most important. So you’d know, for instance, her eye color, but not what makes her laugh. Or you’d know her income but not her goals and dreams. Or you’d know her height and weight but not how she looks in her favorite dress.

That site wouldn’t last for very long, would it?

That, my friends, is what job boards do for potential employers. Even the best companies in the world have a hard time constructing job posts with substance because the platform is all wrong. Yet we continue to tolerate them. Even when we know that we’ll probably spend more waking time at our jobs than we will with our husbands and wives. Even when we know that the decision about where we work and who we work with is one of the most important decisions we make.

We’ve built something better, and we’re launching it on Monday, Sept. 10th.

Sign up early at Work for Pie for Companies.

Marketing is Hard. Building Software is Hard Too.

Rob Spectre wrote a great little blog post about his newfound respect for marketers.  He’s always been a hacker, but spent the past year in more of a marketing role, and now understands and respects the discipline a lot more than he once did.

It’s human nature to underestimate the difficulty of what other people do. How many times have you heard someone say “if I had my boss’s job I’d do it sooo much better!” It’s something we’ve all said or at least thought about at one point or another. Add in the sometimes more than healthy ego of the typical founder, and it gets even worse. 

I think one of the reasons Brad and I get along well is that we have a great deal of respect for our respective areas of expertise. I think that takes a little maturity, and it also takes a little bit of experience standing in the other person’s shoes.

Maturity usually comes from past failures, and that’s how it came for me. I started, or at least attempted to start, a couple different companies before Work for Pie. In both cases I didn’t have a lot of patience, and I didn’t really work on developing the skills I needed to be successful. I guess I thought an MBA was enough of a skill set, and that everything we were attempting would just magically come together. Boy was I wrong. 

With Work for Pie things were a bit different because going through the startup accelerator humbled me from the beginning. From day one we were out in the wild, talking to customers and getting our ideas slapped around. We learned a lot, and, probably most importantly, we learned that we needed to learn a lot more to be successful.  All of that stuff hurt me right in the feels, but it was necessary.

The other part that was missing in my other companies was “time in the other guy’s shoes.” I didn’t know how to write a single line of html when I started failed company one and two. At first, I counted myself lucky because I managed to find partners who did know a thing or two. But, I quickly realized that the fact that I knew nothing was too much of a gap to overcome. I think that’s going to be true in just about every hacker/hustler type relationship. If you’re not willing to dive in just a little bit so that you can at least speak to your technical guy, then you’re going to fail.

So I taught myself to code, just a little bit, and managed to throw together a (mostly static) first site for Work for Pie. That minor feat was, I believe, a big part of the reason Brad decided to jump on board, and I’m really glad he did. And, for his part, he’s done his fair share of marketing and sales (it’s unfortunately impossible to avoid with a two man gig), and I think he has as much respect for my expertise in that arena as I do for his in the engineering arena.

So, my advice? Before you get started, spend some time in the other guy’s shoes. It will humble you, and it will make you a better founder and a better partner.

Holy crap I made a human!  Well, I helped make one.  My awesome wife did most of the work.  Meet Lillian Merit McKinney everyone. Isn’t she awesome?!?

Holy crap I made a human!  Well, I helped make one.  My awesome wife did most of the work.  Meet Lillian Merit McKinney everyone. Isn’t she awesome?!?