IF THEN Statements Work - developed during the process of me convincing the first 8 employees of Powerset to join.
For many founders, hiring the initial team is one big chicken and egg problem. Investors want to see a group of super talented people committed to your idea before you have any money. Employees, who are much more risk averse than founders, want to see that you already have money, or that your money is nearly assured before joining. It's a common challenge.
So who wins this chicken and egg?
Well I’m a big believer that the best ideas are those where you can convince people to join even when there is no money. Following the talent is an easy way to see where the best startups are forming.
So how do you do this?
OK. So here is what I have learned:
- Write down the names of your founding employee targets - the initial people you are trying to convince to join.
- Write down any dependencies that exist between those people. i.e. if that guy joins then I'll join.
- Write down the dependencies for each person that are independent of the other candidates.
- Highlight dependencies from #3 that are common among the candidates.
- Write down those dependencies from #4 that are necessary to solve before your next conversation with each candidate
- Write down those dependencies from #4 that you need to solve before they would be willing to sign an offer letter
- Write down those dependencies from #4 that you need to solve before each candidate is willing to quit their current job and join - notice I differentiated between signing an offer letter and quitting their existing job and working full time.
Once you’re done this exercise, you should end up with a long, but understandable IF THEN statement.
You should now know the order in which you need to land your team and the order of the dependencies you need to solve. This gives you your “to do” list and what should be the top priorities of the company.
By doing this exercise, you’ll also know what dependencies will exist at the time you want them to sign an offer letter. That’s critical. Most first time founders think you have to have all dependencies met before you can ask a person to sign an offer letter. You don’t - put those dependencies inside the offer letter as a condition of starting employment instead of a start date. In other words, the day those dependencies are solved, they agree to give notice to their existing company and begin at yours within 2-3 weeks or so.
Once you have signed offer letters, even if you have dependencies in them, investors, partners and other candidates will see this as a sign of strength. This is often called “lookin like a duck and quackin like a duck” - it shows momentum and that’s always critical. It helps you maintain your cadence and always gives you and those that have joined something to celebrate.
Note: getting a full salary is generally not a good dependency - if it is, you've got bigger problems with that candidate. Either they really don't believe in your idea, or they are so risk averse you should actually target them in the second or third wave of employee hires and not the first.