Second Tier Talent

I finally fired my head of engineering, who was dragging us down. Now, the company is aligned, energetic, flying through development, and, well fun… as I always thought it was supposed to be. Please let everyone know not to accept second tier talent. I cannot believe I did for so long.

It sounds like your problem was more than just technical non-performance; you had someone dragging down your entire company. Every company makes hiring mistakes, but you at least had the courage to act. I do not think anyone is in favor of mediocrity, so I want to focus on something else that struck me in your note.

We rarely have the time early in a company to think about the culture we are creating with our decisions. Moving from one crisis and pivot to the next, culture is often what happens to us through hundreds of accumulated “spot market” decisions when we are not looking, instead of something we affirmatively create.

Some of your fondest memories later in life should be the days building your startup. You will forge intense lifelong bonds of friendship that can only be understood by others surviving the same crucible. If your team does not like each other and does not have fun together in this shared adventure, you are missing one of the most important elements of cohesion and success. You could experience vapid drudgery anywhere. You need not form a startup for that.

I have seen a lot of organizations and a lot of cultures, many of which were toxic cesspits. I want you to slow down in the rapid fire of decisions and build one that reflects the highest aspirations you hold as an entrepreneur and visionary.

Reflect on what values you want baked into the DNA of your organization and do not compromise on those values. Once you start to scale, you will have a near impossible time extracting poison in your environment. Strive for respect and open, challenging discussions. Strive for inclusiveness and diversity, where no one is made to feel like an imposter or is demeaned. Demand excellence and reward stars. Seek out comments from the deep, but silent team members, who often hold within their reserves insights you would otherwise miss. Let everyone know your loyalty to them and they will amplify it back. Charisma comes in a million flavors. Ultimately, does your team believe in the company and you?

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies and 3.103: Founders and Early Talent

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