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Hiring at Early Stage Companies August 17, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
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A quick observation: over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview with a number of start-ups and early stage companies. In many cases the firm seems to be looking for a person with a very specific and narrowly-defined technical skill set to address an immediate gap. I understand that money is tight and they need to be careful about adding staff, but a near-term hiring strategy focused on today’s needs can seriously limit the firm’s future growth.

This reminds me of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm (HarperBusiness, 1991). The strategy and priorities of a company that’s trying to establish a leadership position in a mass market will change as they progress through the technology adoption lifecycle. Moore advises his readers (page 66) to: “Cross the chasm by targeting a very specific niche market where you can dominate from the outset, force your competitors out of that market niche, and then use it as a base for broader operations.”

Specialists may be necessary to achieve that goal. However, once the chasm has been crossed, the organization needs different people with different skills. From page 203 of Moore’s book: “In the development organization, pioneers are the ones who push the edge of the technology application envelope. They do not institutionalize. The do not like to create infrastructure. They don’t even like to document. They want to do great deeds, and when there are no more great deeds to be done, they want to move on. Their brilliance fuels the early market, and without them, there would be no such thing as high tech. Nonetheless, once you have crossed the chasm, these people can become a potential liability.”

In his later book Inside the Tornado (HarperBusiness, 1995), Moore goes into more detail about later phases in the technology adoption lifecycle. Again, the skills that the firm needs to successfully transition through the phases are different. Early stage companies must recognize where they are in the lifecycle in order to develop a staffing strategy that adds the right skills.

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