On Endurance, Recruiting & Catching Big Waves
I read somewhere that half of building a successful company is simply staying alive and keeping the doors open as the weak fold. I always thought this was a stupid adage. How could simply existing position you to build the next Google? I now realize that endurance is not to be underestimated. At Hyperpublic, endurance is in our DNA to the point where we now hire for endurance explicitly. It’s no surprise that founders who are capable of pushing through hard times succeed more than wimps, but the waves and swings of building something from the ether are not just felt by founders. Every single person at HP has a sense of our wins and losses, risks and rewards, and more generally our momentum as a company. When we lose a key hire that everyone loved, it’s a blow. When we pickup a key hire that everyone loved, it’s a celebration. When Google announces a product that is directly competitive with something we’ve been hustling toward, it’s scary, and when our product outperforms their efforts it’s the coolest feeling in the world.
I want to tell you a short story of falling in love, apparent love lost, and then an awesome reunion. And I want to tell it to you in the context of endurance, persistence, and a team pulling together in the valley only to emerge at a crest of a bigger wave. About 6 months ago, Hyperpublic was 4 people. 3 of us were immensely dedicated and tough, 1 of us was less so, and we were having a hell of a time getting from 4 to 5. We set a bar incredibly high for who we’d invite to join our cadre, and only shot for the top talent in the market. We’d meet people, show them our skills, articulate our vision as best we could, and try to mask the fact that we were wildly under-resourced to accomplish the goals we had set out to achieve. People would dig our team and our vibe, and then accept offers at more well defined companies, with established teams and roles and clear and digestible products. No doubt, it was a low when we’d sell the shit out of someone we liked and then they’d take a gig at Foursquare. Our trajectory was sort of raise a hot seed round – build – realize we need way more help building – struggle against bigger companies in the fight for talent – put head down and keep pushing. So that’s the backdrop of what I’ll call a valley in the story of our company.
Around this time I remember Doug coming back from a Penn Engineering competition that he had judged and telling me about this guy from Comscore who was amazing. “We have to get him,” Doug commanded. I got on the phone with this supposed company maker on a Saturday morning (at that point and still today I’d get on the phone at 4:00AM for anyone we’re considering as a team member) and walking in circles through Thompkins Square parking, I listened to him talk about the R&D efforts of Comscore, and we started finishing each others sentences. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to know that this guy was destined to be a part of our team. We immediately bought him a train ticket from Washington D.C. even though he said he wasn’t looking for a job, and began what would become a 6 month courtship. What we didn’t know at the time was that this guy had received half a dozen ridiculous offers as we were getting to know him, and he ultimately called me and said, “listen, I love you guys and what your doing, but I’m going to take a job with XYZ behemoth.” I didn’t take no for an answer 3 or 4 times and then I finally accepted his decision, and moved on.
The HP crew went back to work as usual, made a ton of progress, pushed the company forward thin staffed, made a couple of amazing hires, and one very important fire, and sort of pulled ourselves out of the 4 person valley. All the while, Doug and I found ourselves comparing new applicants to a “Jeff Weinstein” and saying “He’s no Jeff Weinstein” or “He could be a Jeff Weinstein type.”
At some point I got fed up with referencing the guy we wanted when considering alternatives and I sent him an out of the blue email. “Hey, here’s where we are. We are ready for you, if I were to offer you [insert big numbers and tons of responsibility here], what would you say? We caught up, started talking again, and over the course of a few weeks, many late night conversations, and a delayed but still present meeting of the minds, we signed a deal.
Jeff started this week, joined an amazing team that we constructed organically, from the bottom up, the company is on a crest, the details of which I can’t wait to share (as soon as Techcrunch rights their ship and we can make some announcements without fighting Erick Schonfelds 200,001 unread messages in his inbox), and all of this would not have been possible if we did not have endurance flowing through our veins.
So now back to the adage: “Half of building a company is simply staying alive”… I think about this quote now, and although we were never at risk of dying, endurance through the periods between crests does seem to be the surest path to catching big waves…