Surround Yourself With Great People, No Matter What

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By Sonia Kapadia (Founder & CEO, Taste Savant) While I’ve been working on my startup, I’ve received a lot of advice, some good, and some bad. One of the pieces of advice most people mention is to “move fast.”

Time is of the essence and everyday that you haven’t launched is an opportunity for your competition to get stronger, and a lost opportunity to learn from your users. And so, that’s what I’ve been doing — moving fast.

Here is the downside to moving fast, you make a lot of mistakes. Here is the upside, you learn from those mistakes quickly and move on. One of the biggest learnings I’ve gained in this process is that you should always surround yourself with great people, no matter what.

I’ve always known this. I’ve been leading and managing teams for the last 10 years in consumer facing businesses, small and large, and have always depended on my amazing teammates and colleagues to drive our businesses forward. But I must have taken this critical insight for granted, because when I ventured out on my own to launch Taste Savant, my desire for speed clouded my judgment and I forgot what I always knew: The Team is what matters first and foremost.

When I first started out, I was looking for talent to help take my vision from just an idea to an actual product. I quickly jumped into relationships with the first couple of people who seemed capable and eager to work with me. I didn’t vet those people properly. In retrospect I realize my interviews were too easy, they were not substantive, I didn’t probe hard enough. I didn’t check their references. I didn’t follow my gut on whether they were “right” or not; whether they were “GREAT” or not.

I thought I was doing what I should be doing; moving fast. But actually, I was throwing all my years of experience recruiting and attracting great people out the window. I was settling for the first person who even looked in my direction. In reality, I found out very quickly that I had hired the wrong people. They were not great and were quite the opposite. They didn’t fit with the culture I was trying to develop, and they were not driven.

Regardless of whether they were “nice” or “competent,” overall they were not the right people for the job at hand. And as a result, my “moving fast,” was actually “moving slow,” because when I let those people go, I had to spend more time looking for someone new to fill those roles. Constant restarts in a startup are common, but if you move too fast, restarts will hinder your progress – and that’s what was happening to me.

And so I vowed to myself that I will always surround myself with great people. There is a saying "Hire Slow, Fire Fast". I definitely was hiring way too fast. So I took my time finding the next great fit for my business. I spent lots of time with candidates, had them do multiple rounds of interviews, and probed them on things I cared about to make sure they were “great.” And now that I’ve found greatness, things are moving along much faster than before, and I’m much happier.

So what does greatness mean? It means something different to everyone, and something different for every situation. But I tend to follow some pretty basic tenets when evaluating candidates:

  1. Are they Passionate? - Do they care deeply and strongly about something, anything?! If so, they will use their passion to keep them going in the rough times.
  2. Are they Driven with Great Work Ethic? - Do they put their all into what they do? I don’t need someone who will work 20 hours a day, but I look for someone who takes their role seriously and is committed to success.
  3. Are they Skilled? - Are they skilled at their area of expertise? Can they contribute in the area that they are working in better than I can, and better than most, if not all, candidates I have met with?
  4. Will they Not be Afraid of Conflict and Challenge? - This is very important and often missed and something I learned in B-School. Will this person debate me? If they disagree with my decisions, will they push back, will they fight for what they think? I’m not looking for “yes people.” I’m looking for people who will push me to think smarter, and make better decisions.
  5. Do I Like Them? - Are they fun to be around? Will I enjoy having a non-work conversation with them? Will I want to go for a beer after work or go bowling one night with them?

Startups are a rollercoaster. Working with people you like and respect makes the emotional ride much easier to handle and much more enjoyable. I now know I’ve found “greatness,” when I meet someone and think “wow, I want to be around that person because, I like them, I respect their work, I can learn from them, and I respect the way they do their work.”

Surround yourself with great people, no matter what.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Sonia Kapadia is Founder and CEO of Taste Savant, a restaurant discovery site based in NYC. Prior to launching Taste Savant, Sonia worked at numerous consumer facing companies and has deep experience in Brand Management, Marketing, and General Management. She was CMO of a consumer products startup in the UK called Gu Chocolate Desserts, which was sold in 2010. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School.