Why You Should Hire Failed Startup Founders

Do failed startup founders have more to offer your company than successful ones? One CEO seems to think so. Here’s why.

Why You Should Hire Failed Startup Founders
[Image: Flickr user Heisenberg Media]

Go to any technology-focused publication and there’s a particular kind of story you are guaranteed to see: a pair of Googlers creating a $100-million app, or a Mongolian teenager who aced a MOOC then was snatched up by MIT.


We are addicted to these stories of success, of the unlikely entrepreneur who managed to sell his $40 million app despite working out of his mother’s garage. And for good reason.

It’s encouraging to see entrepreneurs achieving their dreams. We like it when hard work pays off.

But what about the brilliant, talented entrepreneurs who don’t achieve instant success? Where are the stories of 90-hour weeks and countless meetings that result in moderate outcomes at best?

In growing my startup, I’ve found the people who fail have as much, if not more, to offer than the successful ones. Over the past three years, I’ve hired five startup founders, and these are the reasons why they are some of the most successful people on my team:

1. They aren’t afraid to take risks

When we first started our sales department, we had to be selective. We needed someone to run the department alone until we figured out how to scale the process; someone who wasn’t afraid to make crazy calls and maybe even say the wrong thing.

We ended up going with a guy who started his own HR software company. When he came to us, he had already seen his company to the end. He had a strong intuition around what would work and what would fail. He wasn’t afraid to take a few risks and cold call some companies that were reaches or strike out on his own to make a deal.


2. They learn quickly

Every newly hired person goes through some training. But the difference between startups and established corporations is that no one holds your hand in a startup. You are given the basic tools–there’s the kitchen, here are the phones, here’s an overview of our company–and expected to jump right in. We look for people who learn quickly, and startup founders who are able to pick things up really quickly.

3. They know how to talk to customers

A few months ago, I had to hire an engineering lead. We needed someone with excellent analytical and technical skills, but we also needed more. A rapidly expanding company like ours requires employees to fill in outside of their given roles. We didn’t want someone hovering over their computer. We didn’t want someone who could code but not talk to people.

In this instance, my head immediately went to startup founders I knew. I found a guy who had started his own company. Sure, it hadn’t succeeded, but it also gave him great customer skills. He was able to code and call up a customer on the phone, feel out their issue, and guide them along. In order to get people to trust your product, they must also trust and relate to you.

When I’ve recruited for my company, I’ve met some seriously talented candidates. Engineers who had an intuitive feel for my product, salespeople who have a proven track record. But the thing about working for a startup is you need more than hard skills. Startups require a certain personality. You must be tenacious and hungry to learn. Startup founders, regardless of their success rates, often have these qualities.

So next time you’re looking to expand your company (or apply to a job), think hard about how failure shapes the strongest candidates.

Have you experienced a major setback before? Or hired someone who hadn’t achieved great success? Share your experience in the comments!


Guy Nirpaz is the CEO of Totango.