This is a guest post by Attila Sükösd, co-founder of Airtame, tech-entrepreneur and investor.
Last week I’ve made a bold promise that I’ll share my biggest failures and the learnings from them, once a week, until the end of 2023. So this is week 1 out of 17, and the focus is on building a great team.
I’m super thankful to have been able to work with some of the most inspiring individuals at my company, Airtame. The joint passion, ambition and love for the craft has united us greatly to build something truely awesome, have fun together, and help each other through some difficult times.
Reflecting on this, a large part of it was sheer luck, right place at the right time, but also some hard work from various people, including my cofounders Jonas Gyalokay, Brian Kyed for instilling the right work cuture and countless Airtamers, including Alexandra Protsenko, Mark Gray, Verena Gutheim and Victoria Andrews and more.
But we didn’t always get it right, and I’m sharing these mistakes, so YOU don’t have to make them!
Let’s see 4 specific misses we had:
- The Arshole: Once upon a time we’ve hired an engineer, he had super great qualifications, very skilled, good communicator. He passed the technical test with flying colors. Maybe his test was actually one of the best ones we’ve ever seen. We had minor concerns as part of the interview review with his attitude. He seemed a bit too strong willed and opinionated, but he passed everything else so well that we’ve decided to give it a go. After only 4-5 weeks in the job, it became very obvious that it was not a match. He was not easy to collaborate with. He has managed to insult and piss off multiple people in his short time, both within his own team and outside. We ended up quickly saying good bye, and have learnt an important lesson that day. Collaboration, working together and enjoying the process (good culture fit) by far outweighs the technical skills.
- The Senior Commercial Leader: At some point in the life of the company, we’ve realized that we’re all a young bunch, we make a lot of mistakes by failing and learning, and it would be great to bring someone who has “tried it before”, so we can gain momentum quicker. So we started looking for people with lots of experience. We’ve also found some with a really good CV, lots of industry experience in high profile companies. We’ve ran them through the interview process, they passed with flying colors. Super high IQ/EQ, good references from the network, and the whole lot. We quickly closed them, got them in and started onboarding a full speed. However 3 months passed, then 6, then 9 and 12 but we were still at the same places as before they joined… Ultimately the learning was that, even though all of them were very professional, undoubtedly had a lot of skills, it was just the wrong skills needed for the job. The type of work they have done before was so vastly different, that they were back to where we were: lots of trial and error.
- The P.h.D: We were hiring a lot of engineers to work on our core streaming protocol. We had an applicant who has been working in a related field in academia. He was super skilled, great at research, published a bunch of papers. He was psyched to join, and we were psyched to get him on board. Once he started getting into things, and he joined the engineering team’s regular sprints, it became obvious that what he was passionate about (research) isn’t neccesarily what he got to do at the job, at least for the most part. And when it was time for him to deliver production ready code, he couldn’t, because although he was hired as a senior given his special expertise in the field, as an engineer to develop production code, he was still very much a junior. Learning: Spend enough time to understand what are the expectations for the role, and be critical on if the person is actually the right fit.
- The overqualified (aka. wrong place at the wrong time): Once upon a time, we hired a great engineer. Super productive, amazing to work with, ambitious, happy to help others, etc. Unfortunately, the challenge was just not big enough, and although we have tried to work with him to find new sets of challenges, move him around the organization, he ended up leaving. The learning here was similar to #3. We needed to hire for the role that we currently have, someone who is willing to take that on, and not overpromise/oversell the role to the candidates.
For all the individuals above, they were all very professional, super skilled in their own way, so I really can’t put any blame on them. The mistakes were purely ours. We failed to screen them properly, and they were just the wrong fit for the type and stage of the company we were at that point. And that’s the big learning in the end.
To sum up:
- 😍 Value culture/team fit above tech skills
- 🤔 Spend time to be clear on what do you really expect out of the specific role
- 🦄 Don’t oversell the role
- 🎢 Find people who have tried the same or similar journey before, not people who have been super successful in a completely different setup
- 🚀 We spend large parts of our lives with people we work together with. So do yourself a favour and hire people you can have fun with!