As an early stage startup, each member of the team significantly affects the company’s survivability and long-term viability. The earlier stage a startup is in, the more essential it is that every person can be relied upon to carry their own weight. While the fundamental roles a person is expected to play at a startup can be explicitly stated, early team members are forced to nimbly juggle unforeseen issues, typically with a great deal of autonomy and discretion. When viewed from a macro-perspective, you don’t want the cleverest business development guy or smartest engineer, but a team-member who demonstrates remarkably good judgment. Sure, they should be capable of performing essential job functions, but without good judgment their involvement can have a deleterious effect on a rapidly changing company.
Let us look no further than the baby metaphor:
A startup is in more ways than one the early team’s baby. It has a name, it’s all you think about and from a third party perspective, perhaps it doesn’t look that difficult to handle. But really it’s a pathologically needy, temperamental and delicate creature that will shit all over your lap for apparently no reason at all. Because the baby appears to almost relish not communicating what is wrong with it, you are forced to derive what it wants, needs and is failing to do in seeming perpetuity. This isn’t a position for the smartest in any one area, but for the determined and considerate.
The search for the most skilled in “x” or “y” may inadvertently force the startup to passover people that might be overall better team members. Startups — not unlike investors — sometimes don’t know what they are looking for in a team member outside of a rather superficial list of skills.
Perhaps it’s time for startups to explain to potential candidates that they are trusting them with their baby and the ability to exercise good judgment reigns supreme to all other qualities. This includes identification of hurdles in the workflow (and with outside parties) and clearly communicating concerns way before things escalate. Everyone would sleep easier knowing that other team members wouldn’t drop the baby on its head and fail to mention it to anyone.
For Job Seekers:
To differentiate yourself, try directly articulating to the startup that you appreciate their trust and that you will try to place yourself in their shoes. Maybe some startups won’t care about your consideration and professionalism, but the ones worth working with will.