People, Quality and Passion
What is the optimal rate for scaling a business? Do it too fast, and the momentum is unsustainable. Do it too slow, and the opportunity is lost forever.
Often companies confuse scaling up with growing their team size. I firmly believe that the size of a team is measured in the number x quality x passion of people. Give me a small team of intelligent people who passionately believe in a dream, and I will show you a company with an unfair advantage. If you think about it, this is why small start-ups succeed against big entrenched competition. The real challenge in scaling a start-up is to keep the quality and passion quotient high simultaneously.
This topic came up in a recent conversation with one of my portfolio companies which is looking for a business development person to augment their team. This is a (stealth) company that has a strong technology base and they are already getting good traction in the market. The team has an impressive pedigree and has maintained extremely high standards in recruitment on the technology front. In fact, the company does not have any "business person" and is looking upon the business development position as a key position to sustain their current momentum and scale up their business. They have interviewed dozens of persons for the spot, and they haven't even come close to an offer yet.
I asked them for a description of the person who would be ideal for this position. Here is what the company came back to me with:
We are looking for a fresh person somewhere between a newbie and a veteran, who is proud of a few key demonstrable successes in previous start-up experiences.
This is a remarkably short and clean job description! And it makes a lot of sense. A fresh person is lean and hungry for growth with the ability to try new approaches. A few key successes, on the other hand, give this person the requisite confidence to get their fouls. And start-up experience helps in working with new situations in the right context.
Often start-ups hire business people for their Rolodex or previous experience in the same area. While that often is necessary and valuable, this start-up has a good network of investors and advisors, that can open up enough doors, and they are already in a market hurting for a solution to its problems.
The non-substitutable attributes however are extreme intelligence and self-confidence. No amount of external value-add can make a dumb person smart, or generate perseverance in the face of a hard task; no amount of experience and practice will do that either. As we know, every start up has a healthy dose of known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns that require business plans to be changed in response to opportunities, customers and competition. It is the native skill of people, their persistence and their passion that carry the day.
In any case, if you know someone who fits the description, or this person happens to be you, send an email to bizdevjob [at] firstround [dot] com. I will be happy to make an introduction!