5 Hiring Best Practices That Set The Bar For Success

Like many successful startups, Mixpanel is pursuing a degree in good hiring practices from the school of hard knocks. CEO Suhail Doshi shares a few things he has learned along the way.

In three years, Mixpanel has grown from two cofounders who just graduated YC with a great idea to a team of 20 people analyzing more than 10+ billion actions every month with 800+ paying customers. Along the way we’ve learned a few things. Most obviously, that the first people you hire are not just members of your team, they are the foundation of your company. Take what we’ve learned into consideration to help ensure that each new hire contributes to that solid foundation that will set your company on the right track for years to come.

  1. The value of gradual growth. While the temptation is to hire quickly, we believe in the value of growing our company gradually. A number of people also call this the hire slow, fire fast approach. While this theory is starting to take some heat, I’ve seen it hold true. Stephen Cohen, cofounder of Palantir, described this well in a class that Peter Thiel taught at Stanford when he said: “You might think that bad hiring decisions won’t matter that much, since you can just fire the bad people. But Stalin-esque meritocracy sucks. Yes, you can shoot the bad people in the back of the head. But the problem with that is that you’re still shooting people in the back of the head.” We set our bar for a role and don’t lower it. But we also don’t wring our hands and agonize. Interview, evaluate, make a decision, and move on. When it pertains to roles in engineering, product, design, or marketing, for example, finding the perfect fit is 5x better than hiring someone who is “good enough.” Each person you hire has a dramatic impact on your growth trajectory in the beginning. The right person will help set you on rocket-ship growth, the wrong person can drag the whole team down.

  2. Learn how to do the job yourself. The hardest roles to hire for are the ones that you don’t know how to do. One of the benefits of gradual growth is that it forces you to take your time and learn how to do basic aspects of different jobs yourself. You won’t become an expert, but you will have a much better grasp of what you need in the role. One trick, while you’re calibrating, is to grab coffee and learn from people that you would love to hire but are otherwise unavailable because they are part of your friend’s company.

  3. Cultural fit is just as important as skills. Does your company prioritize perfection over speed? Is it more important to close a sale or do the right thing for a customer? Your company has a culture and set of values, so make sure you hire someone who fits the culture you are trying to build. The first 5 people on a particular team will often make up the culture of that team in the long run. At Mixpanel we are all Down For The Cause (DFTC), which essentially means we are all in to do whatever is needed, not just the fun stuff. So if you’re not DFTC, then you’re not the right fit.

  4. Interview and adjust. Finding people to join your company is an order of magnitude harder when you are 2 people compared to when you are 20 people. Write the job description, put it out, and start interviewing. You have to put 110% into recruiting and it’s a lot of work. You must experiment with how you spend time with candidates outside of the interview room, articulate what their day-to-day job will really look like, put together offers that make them feel valued on day one, and paint the vision of your company. Finding the right profile fluctuates too. Someone who has grown a sales team from 50 to 200 people is probably not the right fit for a company that needs to go from 0 to 50 sales people.
  5. Always respond to every applicant. If they took the time to contact you in a personal way then you need to take the time to reply to them. Someone who is not a fit right now could be a good fit in the future.
--Suhail Doshi is the CEO and cofounder of Mixpanel, a provider of analytics services for mobile applications and web sites. He is @Suhail on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Eva Ekeblad]

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4 Comments

  • Scott Span, MSOD

    Good advice -  big fan of #3! The culture vs. skills fit debate is one I've heard much of lately. As I shared in a discussion on the topic, it's a balance of both. Yes - customers and stakeholders  care about performance, and although performance takes skills to do the job, performance is impacted by culture. It's difficult to have optimum performance without optimum engagement which is unlikely in non high performing cultures for the longterm. An orgs. culture impacts employee engagement and performance, thus stakeholder ROI is also impacted positively or negatively by culture. Would you care to give 100% of your qualified skills if you were working in an environment you found to be toxic, against your values, or just not a fit. Certain talent is attracted to certain cultures and put off by others, so yes talent/skills does get you ROI, but you won't get longtime engaged talent and thus sustainable ROI without a good culture and talent that is a fit.

  • ramya divya

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  • Jay Decker

    First time employers can get hire-happy. I've made this mistake in the past and the repercussions are enough to make you take a second and third look at your hiring practices, when all is said and done. 

  • Alexander Stobe

    Some great points here that are echoed by many startups. One that is here, but doesn't get enough attention is "Interview and adjust." Especially when you're starting out, your candidate profile, job description and process need to be flexible if you want to be successful.