How Not to Get Real (and die trying)

Recently, Auston of the Dashboard Leadlog startup in Florida posted a somewhat snarky blog post about one of the responses to a job opening at their company. I more or less said the same things that appeared on Hacker News. Eventually my comment may show up, but it’s buried at #20, so I thought I’d post it here, as well.

Auston, this is for you.

While his tone was a little condescending, I completely see where this person was coming from. I have all of these skills, and if I was on the market, I’d skip right over your ad. I wouldn’t even consider it, and I probably wouldn’t be kind enough to tell you why. If anything, he wasn’t harsh enough, and you’d be wise to find the grain of truth in his criticism.

Money isn’t just important as a way to pay the bills. I could pay my bills on a lot less than I make today. Money is important because it shows how much an employer values me and my skills, which is also an indication of the work environment. Moreover, labor is a market. I’m not even going to consider an employer who can’t pay what the market will bear. Put another way, why would I want to work for anyone other than the employer who values me the most?

When you hire someone, however you’re compensating them, it’s more than they could get anywhere else. Think about that for a moment. If you get a Porche at a Honda price, don’t be surprised if the motor doesn’t live up to the salesman’s promises. You offered the highest price he could get for it, and it wasn’t a very good price. Maybe the other buyers know something you don’t.

Of course, salary isn’t the only kind of compensation. If they really believe in your company, they’ll push for equity, because they’ll believe that the equity is more valuable than the paycheck. If that’s the kind of belief you want, then you need to structure the compensation to be competitive to people who feel that way.

Your ad describes an expert frontend/backend guru-level ops/designer/architect (who also doesn’t mind slogging through maintenance tasks). And to compensate them, you’re offering…. a big monitor? Ping pong? JOKES!? Are you SERIOUS? Talking about a “comfortable and fun work environment” is a red flag. If you have to go out of your way to keep your engineers entertained and comfortable, that usually means that your product very boring and unpleasant. No thanks.

It sounds like you want a CTO or chief architect. If you can’t afford several hundred thousand per year in salary (which most startups can’t), you’d better be prepared to hand over a sizable chunk of your company to them. Skip the stuff about your killer break rooms, they probably have better chairs and toys at home. Sell them on the concept and the business plan instead. Anyone with those skills knows what they’re worth. You’re recruiting a partner, not an employee, but your ad clearly shows that you don’t get that.

If you balk at giving up so much, then ask yourself this: why else would someone with with that value choose to invest it in YOU, when they can do half the work and make 4 times as much at Google or Yahoo, or probably start their own company and compete with you directly? You’re hunting tigers, and frankly, it doesn’t sound like you’re up to the task.

If you don’t need that level of expertise, then don’t ask for it. When you want a Honda, and you can afford a Honda, you go to a Honda dealership. Job ads are not the place to shoot for stretch goals. This is the equivalent of the resumes that list every buzzword under the sun, when the person has real experience in maybe two or three.

We’re two biz dev guys, a ux guru and a hacker with solid business experience.

So, you’re 4 people, and only one of you writes code? Good luck with that. No wonder you need so much help. One of the biz dev guys should probably sell their equity to the other three, and go “dev” some other “biz”. Then maybe you’d be able to afford the CTO you need. It’s going to be a tough sell, though, given the childish attitude towards compensation.