Startup Hiring: Rock Stars vs. “Put Me in Coach”

You can go to virtually any blog from any pundit of any industry and generally speaking you will find the same basic arguments for hiring rock stars only. Everybody runs to the valley and bulks up on capital so the payroll can include tons of rock stars.


I have a slightly different view on this. Generally, I believe in finding super smart people who do not have rock star status but either should or will.

Consider these two examples:

  • Chuck is a 5 year iOS super star. Knows how to code for iOS inside and out. Rock Star. He lives in Denver and will telecommute, Skype all day, and fly out once a month or so for face time.
  • John is a recent grad of wherever you are university. He is pounding on your door to just get a chance to do great things, promises he is smart, etc, etc. The essential put me in coach type.

You can only hire one and you are hiring to fill a slot not this being your only developer. What do you do? Conventional wisdom would tell you it is easy; Chuck by a landslide. Not so fast.

Suppose I add this fact: John comes in on Friday and says he can code Java, self taught, shows you some pretty cool Android applications with so so graphics but the apps are cool and work. Self taught. So, you send him home to build an iOS app “to see how smart you really are.” On Monday, John comes back with a very good iOS app that meets the basics of what you asked him to do. It has some warts but it basically works and he did it over the weekend with only his knowledge and the Internet to help.

Now what do you do?

Many people will go for the rock star and I get that. The point of this exercise is merely to cause you to think about this. This is, of course, more then just saving some coin and dodging potential rock star ego issues.

My greatest hires in days gone by were from the put me in coach hiring program. Putting an ad on Craigslist for “the smartest person out there and I don’t care if you have a degree, just show me what you can do”, can yield surprising results. As you bulk up your team, balance those rock stars with bench strength that will give you raw talent, loyalty, and future rock stars of your own.

Note: The best actual rock stars you can hire are those that believe in precisely what I just pointed out. If they can teach and grow a young team without all the drama and ego, then they truly are rock stars.

About the author

Rick Segal

Rick Segal, is the co-founder of Fixmo. Prior to starting Fixmo, Mr. Segal was a partner at JLA Ventures, a large Canadian Venture Capital fund. Mr. Segal was President and Chief Executive Officer of Microforum, a leader in providing integrated e-business solutions in a wide array of industry verticals.

Mr. Segal joined Microforum in July 2000 from Chapters Online Inc., a leading Canadian e-commerce company, where he held the position of President and Chief Operating Officer (1997-2000). Mr. Segal began working with Chapters Inc. in 1997 as a consultant on the technical development of the Chapters e-commerce venture. Based on this successful collaboration, he was named the President of Chapters Online in August 1998.

Prior to joining Chapters Online, Mr. Segal was a partner at the international firm of TMS Consulting from1996 to 1998. Mr. Segal worked at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington from 1992 until 1996 as Director of technical services for the Internet Customer Unit. Mr. Segal is also the author of four books on Network Management and Windows software development.

  • I read this article just when I needed it most. Thank you! Just the confidence boost I needed.

  • I find this is so true, Just because someone has letters beside their name and or experience. Yes if you have to get a job done and only have 1 position then you need a rock star in that position but as a contractor. In my opinion people get hired for a job and they think “this is my only job”. No you work for me and you will do what needs to get done by the company! Rock stars feel entitled and don’t often tend to want to venture from their box. 

    I have found for myself that I have been so much more valuable to the companies I have worked for because I have a little knowledge about everything, but i learned the skill to learn what I have to when I need it. When you are sitting in a meeting and someone says I can get you that HTML template for distribution but we have to fix the CSS but we don’t have the time and you say. Tell me what needs to be fixed I can do it. All of a sudden projects get done faster and you start working as a team sharing load when you have to when stuff gets stressful.

    In a small company this is a must, you have to wear many hats and be willing to change them.

  • I’m sure storify is going to love you. =D

/* ]]> */