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Should I Work For This Guy? A Secret That Will Help You Decide

You’ve scored a job offer at a small, nascent startup. How do you know they won’t turn into douche bags when things get tough? Here’s one trick from VC Hunter Walk.

Should I Work For This Guy? A Secret That Will Help You Decide
[Image: Flickr user Futurilla]

Working for a startup has halcyon connotations, but small companies can be extremely strenuous places to work when personalities (and tempers, and egos) begin to flair. The founder who seemed calm and collected in your interview might become totally unhinged when things go wrong, but it can be hard to know who’s prone to freak-outs when you’re only in the office for an hour’s discussion.


One heuristic for judging executives’ people-competency, says founder of the Homebrew seed fund Hunter Walk, is their ability to attract and retain former coworkers.

… [O]ne other undervalued aspect of evaluating talent is judging whether or not they can attract other needed hires. I don’t just mean provide you with some referrals. I mean are they the type of person who once they join your company is going to start telling their friends and former colleagues that this is the place to be. And will those people listen to them.

Walk is talking from the perspective of the person doing the hiring, but this advice can be turned 180 degrees and used by the applicant, too. Before you take that startup job, ask yourself: How long did this founder work with his or her co-founders prior to starting the company? How many of the the co-founders former co-workers split from their day jobs to take a chance on this company? How open to referral hires are the co-founders; do they prefer to bring in strangers whom they can more easily isolate from decision-making discussions?

The inverse scenario–dealing with a founder who only hires friends, not qualified candidates–is perhaps as common. And there are more. Venture capitalist Mark Suster’s blog has a great list of “things that go wrong” between founders, several of which are germane to the co-worker issue that Walk alludes to. A few of Suster’s gems:

Conventional wisdom doesn’t account for all of the things that go wrong in partnerships over time; especially ones that are formed quickly and without a long gestation period.

He continues:

Even if you *think* you know them, people change. One person gets more risk averse, the other has more risk appetite. One person gets married or has kids and starts to de-prioritize the business. One person loses the passion for what you do. Or you have disagreements about strategy, recruiting, funding, etc.

Finally, Suster adds this troubling if true bit of advice: If you’re interviewing at a two-founder startup, beware.

50/50 partnerships can be hugely unstable–even if you’ve been friends since high school.

Hat Tip: Hunter Walk