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2. At a Startup, Jobs Grow Faster Than People

In 1982 I suddenly lost my job as 3Com’s CEO and became our vice president of sales and marketing. Take this as a measure of our desperation. I knew we needed feet on the street, people to actually ask our customers for orders. I didn’t have too many choices-it wasn’t a very big company at the time-so I started looking over the available candidates.

Dave didn’t initially look very promising, since he wasn’t in sales. (He was a production engineer.) But he was single, his dad was a salesman, and he could move that week, so I assigned him the entire eastern United States as his 3Com sales territory. This is one of history’s bad decisions with a good outcome.

Since his background wasn’t in sales, Dave wasn’t a good bet to succeed in the huge job I gave him. But he was smart and energetic and he learned fast. Pretty soon, orders started doubling. The volume of sales was improving so quickly that I “promoted” Dave-from head of the entire eastern United States to head of the northeastern region. Again, he succeeded, and I was able to “promote” him again, this time by giving him the Washington D.C. metro area. After another strong run of successes, Dave went up the down staircase again by taking over all private label sales in Washington.

If you counted from the top, as people tend to do in big companies, Dave was getting demoted each time. If you counted from the bottom, each reduction in territory in our rapidly growing company was a big promotion with more responsibility and higher compensation. This is an example of how in small successful startups the jobs grow faster than the people, not the other way around, the way they do in big companies.

3. Don’t Hire-Recruit

Lesson #2, that jobs grow faster than people in successful startups, implies something very important about the people you bring into such a startup.

First, don’t “hire” anyone. B people hire C people-they collect resumes and choose the person they want to honor with a job. A people recruit A people. The people you need for a growing startup already hold jobs much bigger than the ones you need to fill. You have to recruit them, beg them almost, to take the small jobs you’re offering. Those with imagination will see that the company has the potential to grow so quickly that the small job will soon be much bigger than the stable position they hold at a big company. Forget about big company notions of performance. A people can perform easily 10 times better than B people, sometimes 100 times, or 1,000. The worst thing you can do is rush to fill a job with a B or C person. That could be very costly, perhaps even fatal, to your company. Wait until you can recruit the A person who can see the future and grow with it.

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