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Start-Ups & Shades Of Grey…

February 10th, 2013 Comments off

I’ve written a few other posts about the hiring process we all inevitably go through (continuously…) and the critical need to be honest with yourself and have an accurate assessment of your skill set, as well as the environment you might possibly be hiring into. This scenario played itself out again this week as I potentially started the interview process with a candidate. I know that this candidate had some insight on the company so the fact that they were going to be potentially joining a start-up was not a new development. However, and almost immediately out of the gate, the questions were all in the spirit of “How is process “X” defined?”. “Where do you see the company in 5-years?”. “I’m used to working with automated process so what will my budget be for “xyz” technology?”.  Already I could tell we weren’t quite getting off on the right foot and the candidate likely would have an extremely tough time adapting to the life of a start-up.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very valid questions, but when you’re 6-months into a start-up, there are very few things that are black & white. For starters, when I’m asked how a certain process is defined & documented, there are few processes, at least at this point that are documented. Yes, we might have specific deadlines for submitting payroll, paying vendors, and we might have project timelines, but the time that the respective teams have available needs to be spent on mission critical tasks and not defining & documenting processes. From a Finance perspective, I have always had to live in the world of defined processes and reams of documentation on how something needs to be channeled through the organization to be addressed. In the world of a start-up, there has to be an implicit level of trust that your team members are working with their respective Director or VP and progressing in the completion of their deliverable. Yes, there are check-in meetings and other discussions to ensure progress…but processes and documentation…not here. Just get it done and deliver on what you promise.

Regardless of whether it’s a cyber security start-up or a small apparel firm, you’re bringing together a group of individuals with the experience to deliver and that have the requisite experience in the industry or their respective expertise. If you’re the newbie, as I am amongst my team, you’re not going to be pestering them for documentation and whether they’ve defined the process. Clearly not a value add in the very earliest stage of a start-up.

Even slightly more amusing is the question of where we’ll be in 5-years. Well, unless we deliver on what we’ve promised inside of the first 12-18 months it’s hard to think about 5-years. Don’t get me wrong, we have a wicked brilliant team and we can reasonably table that 5-year question with the talent that has been assembled, but the more valid question is “What are the immediate needs over the next 3-6 months as you navigate the critical first stages of the company?”.  It was very clear that hiring into the CFO role for a start-up meant I was going to be doing a high volume of “non-traditional” work for my role. I wasn’t looking for traditional since I had plenty of “traditional” in my career. I was looking for a true challenge and the opportunity to join in the mission of a company that I could believe in and would have a positive benefit for the customers we’d be servicing. However, assuming that same role also meant joining the uncertain world of start-ups and being comfortable living in the many shades of grey that would present themselves. What’s your comfort level when definition might be lacking?

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael