The Price of Making a Wrong Hire - A True Story

I spend my days talking with Founders and CEOs. While many of those discussions center around their next strategic hire, what I always find interesting is the many reasons why it's time to hire now

Just over 80% of our clients are startups, so most of their strategic hires follow a growth round of investment. That exhilarating post-investment period where the CEO and their ELT are excited, and there’s an overall sense of "we can do this!

However, there are other, less celebratory reasons why a CEO needs to partner with a specialized recruitment firm, like us, to make a strategic hire. This is often when the stakes are so high, it's a can't fail hire/undertaking.

A Real World Example

A good example of this second hiring situation centers around a recent client of ours. They engaged us to recruit a Vice President to lead one of their most critical functions, sales.

The persona of this company is one we are very familiar with and reflects a large percentage of our clients:

  • Raised a respectable Series A in the low double digits
  • Fewer than 50 employees
  • Revenues less than $4M ARR USD

While this would seem like a celebratory stage for the company, since their founding round, they had gone through two VPs of Sales and were in critical need of a third hire who had to be successful. 

The CEO/Founder needed this hire to get the most critical job done - achieve revenue growth. Specifically, they needed to get from, $10M > $25M ARR. The entire organization was under pressure from their new investor to make that happen fast.

The Problem

"What happened to the last two people you hired for this role?" we asked. The CEO was at a loss for words - they weren't entirely sure. When we commented, "this must have been very expensive for you" the CEO painfully replied, "it almost cost me the company."

The CEO had assumed that since each of the last two VP Sales had each been successful in their previous organizations, they must have the "playbook" to do it again. They were wrong. 

But why were they wrong? It seems straightforward - hire winners, start winning. But we quickly identified the cause of the two hiring failures… the persona of the candidate they chose.  

The persona of the first two VP Sales were quite similar:

  • Both worked for large, publicly traded companies considered leaders in their categories
  • Both worked for global tech brands
  • Both had led large sales teams with different tiers of reps and SDRs
  • Both had joined their employers to lead sales teams after the companies were already household names
  • Both earned higher-than-average base salaries for the Canadian market

The Solution

After receiving a lot of money, there is a gut reaction to want to search and hire “the best” to achieve outcomes. But it is essential to remember “the best” isn’t always those at FAANG or big names brands. 

The persona of a candidate who works for a global tech brand and has achieved incremental growth/uptick of an already large number is not typically the right hire for a Seed or Series A funded startup.

The hire this company needed was someone with a successful track record of achieving the specific outcomes they needed to achieve. In this case, it was a $4M to $25M ramp.

Instead of the persona they had previously hired, what they needed was a hire with the following attributes:

  • Will "figure it out" like a mad scientist until they unlock the right combination of prospective client & messaging & pricing & process
  • Doesn't need lots of resources to get sh*t done
  • Are insatiably curious and resilient
  • Can become what the sales cycle requires them to be at the time (BDR, AE, Presales, closer, AM … you name it, they can step into the role and win)
  • Most importantly wants to build a company, not "manage a sales team"

The Takeaways

This story is a good reminder not to assume success comes from a big company hire. Startups most often need startup builder personas to have the greatest likelihood of success.

Another takeaway is that all Founders going through their first time hiring ELT or department leader positions should seek advice before starting to hire. You know what you know, and that can be limiting. 

Talk with professionals who have done this before, whether a mentor who is a seasoned Founder in your field or a third-party search firm with experience in these specific types of hires. 

Seeking out advice just might provide you with the insights needed to save yourself from the scenario we just shared. And with such high stakes, your company is worth doing that for.

book a consultation