Do you know what the definition of a kernel is? Whether it’s a seed or a computer’s operating system, it’s the core of anything.
So, for you, when you’re starting to think about the team you’re going to bring in, the kernel of your team is that first group of people that join the company. They set the tone for everything that follows.
And what’s the kernel of the kernel? Well, that’s you, the CEO. You’re at the center of everything that happens.
Now, what does all this talk about kernels and cores have to do with attracting the best talent to your company?
It Starts with You. You Need to Be Compelling as The CEO
The best talent has options. They’re not going to join just any company. They have to believe that your company, with you as the CEO, is the best option for them at this stage of their career.
For starters, that means they have to believe in you as the CEO, and in your vision for the company. They will not join your company if they don’t believe in you.
My advice is simply to be yourself and be transparent.
You can’t be something you’re not, so don’t try to be. If you’re not technical, and you need to recruit technical people, then don’t try and wow prospective engineers with your technical prowess.
Instead, play to your strengths, whatever they might be. Then, and this is critical, you’re going to have to share your vision for the company in a lot of detail.
Top Talent Asks Tough Questions.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why is this going to work?”
“What about Google and how are you going to beat them?
“How much money do you have?”
“When does your funding run out?”
“What’s your revenue plan?”
You get the idea.
Oh, and you’d better be prepared to not hold back. You need to directly answer each and every question top talent asks.
“That’s all I have to do,” you say to yourself. Think again. That’s just the start of what you need to do to attract the best.
You Need a Great Founding Team Around You.
Do you know the old saying, “the first ten people you hire will set the tone for everything that follows?”
Top talent doesn’t want to work with B and C players. Top talent wants to work with top talent. That means your founders and the initial employees of your company all need to be great too.
You’ll Need Work Hard to Remove the Brilliant Jerks.
We all make bad hires. That’s normal.
And, we’ve all worked with a brilliant jerk or two in our career. Nothing is worse than working with some that makes the work environment toxic, no matter how brilliant they might be.
The problem is when we don’t take action, and the brilliant jerk continues wreaking havoc. Then, your top talent decides to move on.
That’s why you and your team will need to aggressively work to remove the brilliant jerks from the ranks.
You Need a Great Culture Too.
Top talent wants to work in an environment where they are appreciated. Not only that, they want their voices to be heard.
So start thinking about your company culture BEFORE you start your company and certainly BEFORE you bring on your first co-founder. Think hard about the people you want on your team, the values they have, their integrity, their passion for what you’re doing, and how smart they are.
Think hard about how you intend to work with your team. Are you going to be a dictator (please say no), or are you going to work in collaborative way (please say yes :-)) and create an environment where your top talent never wants to leave?
Then, as part of your culture mission, you’ll communicate what your culture is all about to everyone, a lot. Maybe you don’t have to communicate the importance of your culture every day, but you can’t neglect it.
Don’t Forget, You’ll Have to Compensate Top Talent Well Too.
Finally, don’t think for a second that the top talent you’re recruiting is going to join you at a bargain. They will not.
The compensation package you give top talent needs to be commensurate with the risk they are taking. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay crazy salaries. This does mean that the combination of salary plus stock plus, in the US, healthcare, needs to be competitive.
And yes, I fully acknowledge that some of the people you recruit are going to want a higher salary than you can afford to pay them. That’s okay because the time isn’t right for them to join you.
You need to find the talent that can afford to take the risk of a lower salary with a higher equity payoff. That’s your initial team.