By Scott Meacham
I am approaching the end of this year with a sense of relief and hope for a better year next year. Like many of us, I can say sincerely that I have never been through anything like this year with a pandemic, an ice storm (including a branch through the roof of my house) and a presidential election that just won’t end, and of course the pandemic isn’t finished with us yet.
Oklahoma’s energy sector has been pummeled. Across the economy, we have seen downsizing and furloughs. Families have had to juggle home schooling and telecommuting. It has been tough, and the outlook is that it will be tough for a while.
But eventually, we will come through this, and when we do it will be thanks to innovation. Innovation that will forever change the face of our world. Innovation is apparent in the retail sector as retailer’s pivoted from an in-store Black Friday model to a seemingly successful online and curbside pickup model. Restaurants have moved to carryout service and home delivery to survive and, in some cases, thrive. Innovation has driven the drug development cycle from years to months for a vaccine, as well as a host of other new therapeutics.
Entrepreneurs and innovations have not stopped. In fact, they have accelerated. New companies are starting; new ideas are bubbling up. Sooner or later, advanced technology startups will need to add people. And when they do, it will be with a deeper understanding of how important it is to have the right team when chaos and uncertainty hits — and in the startup world, it doesn’t take a pandemic for chaos and uncertainty to prevail.
Over the years, we have learned valuable hiring tips from our portfolio companies. What’s interesting to me, as I reflect on the impact of recent months, is how valuable and durable — and how counter-intuitive some of these learned lessons are — for startups and corporations, for times that are good and times that are chaotic.
First, do not hire people who look like you, have the same expertise, or identical passions. Take it from McKinsey’s research. Companies that are more diverse achieve better business results. Hire for your weakness. Different and complementary talents bring strength to your team.
Hire for where you are now, not where you want to be. Long-term vision, goals, and aspirations are important, but more important is to hire to achieve the milestones of the current business plan. If your product isn’t ready, you don’t need to hire a sales manager. On the other hand, if you have a prototype, don’t expect software engineers to be able to cold call or close beta customers.
Hire strategically instead of conveniently. There are a many excellent people these days looking for jobs. Map out your hiring needs for the next 18 months and start your search patiently. Think thoughtfully about the job description and characteristics of your next hire. Take the time now to become proficient with the tools and experts who can help you find the ideal candidate when opportunities open up.
When evaluating investment opportunities at i2E, we like to say it is “Team. Team. Team. Market. Product.” Working at a startup can be a bumpy ride. The only certainty is uncertainty. The right team de-risks this reality — no matter what else is going on in the world.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.