However good your business idea, it’s all for naught unless you execute well. And great execution comes down to three things: finding, inspiring and retaining the best people.
A startup CEO — and all CEOs — should always be on the lookout for great talent, even when there’s not a position open. A CEO should be aware of the very best people in their space. Who is the best engineering leader? Who is the most talented salesperson? The most effective CMO? Find out why these people are the best and understand what makes them special. Connect with them on LinkedIn and then stay in touch on their career moves. In some cases, get to know them way in advance of recruiting them to your team.
The only way to attract top talent is to be working on something very interesting and challenging, where the best people will have an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t be intimidated by competing against old, established companies. If you are running a startup, you offer the candidate way more variety and the opportunity to build something from scratch. That’s a very attractive proposition. I always view an opening as though I have two 50-yard line seats to the Super Bowl and I have to decide who I am going to invite. In other words, I start from the perspective that I have something very special, and I possess the belief that a lot of people would like to participate. This leads to far better outcomes than the “Eeyore” approach of lamenting, “How am I ever going to accomplish something so difficult? How am I going to find the best talent?”
However, we all know that this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, an outside hire is needed to make a difference or to shake things up. In high-growth companies, you will always need to bring in outside talent as your jobs are growing faster than the number of people inside the company. This too happened at eBay. When I joined in 1999 we had a couple hundred people; when I left we had over 10,000 — making it utterly impossible to rely heavily on finding people internally. In this case, my secret weapon was the network effect. I asked everyone I hired, “How many people will follow you here if I hire you?” I learned the value of not only leveraging my network, but of leveraging theirs as well. Acqui-hires were not popular at that time, but this approach allowed us to attract an entire team of the best Unix systems administrators to eBay. With this experience, I learned an important truth: Great talent knows other great talent, and offers the fastest way to build an all-star team.What about the superstars right in front of you? Of course, we all know that promoting from within is an attractive option. You already know the person, and his or her strengths and weaknesses within the current culture. I often wish more leaders took the chance on people already on the team instead of hiring a rock star from outside the company. Too often we overlook the obvious. I have witnessed great success when hiring from within the organization, such as when Meg Whitman asked Jeff Jordan to run PayPal when I was at eBay. Jeff had sponsored the acquisition and had an in-depth knowledge of payments, PayPal and the details of the deal. He had a lot of trust from everyone at eBay as well as PayPal, which made him a perfect candidate and he excelled in his new role.