I’m a big believer that when you first start a company, you want to hire senior people.
The first few people you bring on board are going to massively dictate the culture of your company, the speed at which you are able to move, and how many problems you are going to need to fix down the line. If you start a company and hire junior developers right away, you may have a team of very enthusiastic, very talented people, but they’ve never “done it” before. Which means, two out of every four people are going to end up learning on the job.
For example, when we first started Gong, most of our first 15 or 20 hires were senior, very experienced individuals. My co-founder and I had built other companies in the past and had learned the hard way that if you hire junior employees to start, you end up needing to fix a big part of everything that you’ve built further down the line. And that’s just not productive.
As a result of hiring more senior people, we were able to launch a sellable, viable product within just a few months—as opposed to a few quarters. There was almost a decision-making and collaboration process built in. Because everyone on the team had done the whole startup thing before.
But hiring experienced people is only the beginning.
Once you have your foundational team in place, here are the 3 most important practices for scaling a winning team.
1. Only hire junior employees once senior employees have the bandwidth to train them.
Early-stage startups often make the mistake of adding more people to the team before really thinking through who is going to train and, more importantly, manage those new people.
Part of the reason why it’s so important to hire experienced people at the onset is because people with experience tend to require the least amount of management. They know what it feels like to wear eight different hats. They understand that they can’t wait for someone else to give them the answer—they need to just figure it out themselves. And that’s exactly what your company needs in its early days.
Once your team is productive, and some time has gone by where the business is showing signs of being a well-oiled machine, only then is it beneficial to consider hiring more people (especially junior-level employees). Because junior-level employees require oversight.
One senior employee may be able to manage one or two juniors. But they won’t be able to coach ten. So part of scaling effectively is taking things step by step. Even if you are growing like crazy, don’t just add to your company’s headcount. Think through who is going to be responsible for each and every new hire. And if no one has the bandwidth, then wait.
Otherwise, those new hires are going to be wasted resources.
2. Put managers in place who are also terrific executors and individual contributors.
This is just my personal opinion, but I believe the best managers are also terrific ICs (individual contributors).
Some people want to become managers. That’s fine. But I have always seen the best managers consider leadership an option, not the only end goal. They love what they do, they are terrific at solving problems and being “in the weeds,” but they have the awareness and experience to lead others if and when they need to. These types of managers are very different from managers who simply “like to manage,” because the former are more hands-on. They can act more as mentors than managers, and they are more self-reliant. This is especially true in engineering and product roles.
If you hire managers (or promote people to managerial positions) who have been detached from the hands-on role, you will likely run into scenarios where it is very difficult for the department to run on its own. These types of managers are great “traffic conductors,” but not very effective at solving day-to-day problems. Instead, it’s better to promote your senior employees who have managerial experience or show signs of being effective managers. That way, they can be more helpful to the people they manage.
3. Don’t just scale people. Scale principles.
If you are a fast-growing company, the big question is how to scale the culture.
I don’t remember the exact number, but around 80 employees or so, we knew we were entering a new phase of growth at Gong. The company was doing quite well in terms of how we were operating internally. Everyone felt comfortable and knew who to go to for help. It was fun. People weren’t leaving. The product was starting to sell. And we knew, pretty soon, the size of the company was going to double (or more).
So, we went through an exercise.
We took some time to write our existing operating principles. We asked the team to write down what they liked about how the company operated in the present. This wasn’t an aspirational exercise. It was very practical. And it allowed us to be specific about what we wanted to keep as a priority, and ultimately create principles like Create Raving Fans and No Sugar, for example.
Today, we have more than 700 employees. And many of those operating principles we clarified when we were 10x smaller are still our operating principles today. We have worked hard not just to scale the number of people who work at Gong, but also the culture of the company.