Like any active, early stage venture investor, I have spent a fair amount of time helping my portfolio companies build a management team. And like any venture investor, I wish I could boil hiring down to a more scientific method to make sure that each person we bring on to a company is better than the next. However, that does not always happen. The one constant in hiring, however, is the “A-Player Domino Effect” which basically says that when you hire an A-Player, they bring lots of other A-Players to the table. Think about it this way. Why do so many people want to play for the Yankees? Sure, it is the cash, but it is also the opportunity to work with other A-Players to win a pennant that lures A-talent to New York. Same with the Lakers-Gary Payton and Karl Malone took pay cuts to join the Lakers and Shaq and Kobe to win a championship. I am not saying that in order to have a successful company you have to have a lineup of proven all stars since team chemistry plays a huge role. In fact, every company may have a different definition of what an A-Player looks like. Look at the Detroit Pistons, full of chemistry and a solid bunch of hungry players, who took out the all-star laden Lakers in the NBA Finals.
However, in many of my successful companies, the first couple of VP hires made all of the difference in the world in terms of attracting strong talent and positioning the respective companies for success. For example, one of my companies just brought in an experienced VP Sales from a competitor in the market. Once he signed, he brought on 2 of his top sales performers from his prior company along with the former head of sales engineering. This was great as it helped us fill out the team below the VP-level and brought the company known quantities who had worked with the VP Sales successfully at other companies. Another portfolio company brought on a great VP Engineering who brought 3 of his top guys with him. In each case, both VPs had a few people willing to follow them to the next opportunity. It is obviously a great sign when this happens. It shows me that someone can build a team, engender loyalty, and perform at a high and successful level. Every company or investor may have a different definition of an A-Player but one thing I can say for sure is that hiring an A-Player does not necessarily mean you have to hire the “big name” or “proven all star” in the industry. Many times, I have found A-talent from up and comers who are stepping up into a bigger role, have something to prove to themselves and the world, and just have incredible will and drive to make things happen. Of course, they have to possess the prerequisite industry experience, proven track record, etc. but the intangibles often make a big difference. In the end, great people like to work with other great people.