At Range, one of our team’s biggest areas of focus is helping our founders build A+ teams. While hiring great talent is always important, it has a vastly outsized impact at the early-stage; whether employee number 10 is a superstar or a bust could be the difference between raising a great Series A and struggling to survive. This is an area I have become increasingly passionate about and want to share some of the more tactical observations and pieces of advice that we offer to founders.
Our number one area of focus is ensuring that founders know what A+ talent looks like across the entire organization. And there’s no way to reliably know what great talent really looks like without having experienced it yourself.
It’s not too hard for a VP of Sales to identify a great sales manager or sales rep. They live and breathe sales so they know exactly what a “great” version of those roles looks like. In fact, they probably once did those jobs themselves, and they were pretty darn good at them in order to move up to VP.
At some point, that former VP of Sales decides to start a company and ultimately needs to make key hires for other functions, such as engineering, HR, legal, etc. Is that person really well-equipped on their own to identify, evaluate, and hire a great VP of Finance, for example?
I remember one founder I worked with who had a brilliant product and marketing mind but finance was not his forte.
As the company began to grow, we had a conversation and agreed that they quickly needed to hire a head of finance. This was the first time the founder had ever hired a finance exec and they agreed that I could interview any finalist before they ultimately made the hire. The founder posted a job and interviewed a few candidates, eventually selecting one finalist.
“This candidate is amazing,” the founder gushed. “This person has been a CFO for three other companies and is a total finance whiz. They even showed me some of the financial models they prepared for other companies and they were incredible. I think this is who we need!”
I was excited and expected that I’d probably just be a rubber stamp interview and planned to move into “sell mode” halfway through the conversation. This founder was incredibly smart and had high expectations for their people. No doubt they had found the amazing finance hire that we desperately needed!
Ten minutes into the interview it was clear that we had to go back to the drawing board.
Yes, the candidate had loads of finance experience on paper. They knew how to build a model. And they comfortably and even gratuitously threw around lots of fancy-sounding finance terms like “pro forma”, “EBITDA”, and “terminal value”.
But they had poor answers to questions that really required deeper strategic thinking on topics such as forecasting, budgeting, capital allocation, and team development. It was abundantly clear that we could do a lot better, but I didn’t come to this realization based on crazy smarts or some amazing instinct for talent evaluation.
No, I only knew what “great” looked like in this case because I have had the good fortune of working with and hiring some outstanding finance leaders over the years. I wasn’t wowed by experience, Excel wizardry, and comfort with financial jargon. I knew that those attributes were just table stakes for any reasonable candidate and that we had to look deeper.
Successful hiring isn’t easy, and it’s one of the areas where founders can and should leverage the help of experienced advisors and investors for key roles. Founders should try to meet with examples of great execs, and then ask those execs and advisors to pressure test hires and get involved in the interview process wherever possible.
Being able to know what “great” really looks like is often the key to making a game-changing hire who takes the company to the next level.