In the Startup World, Experience and Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential

Founder, CEO & Chief Data Wizard at Schoolrunner

As an entrepreneur, I’m naturally skeptical of experience. When you start something new, you look at the world and say to yourself, “Nobody’s been able to solve this problem before, so I’m just going to have to do it myself.”

When you get a little farther down the road and start hiring people you’re faced with a choice: Do I hire someone who’s “done this before” or someone who is smart and will be able to figure it out as we go? 

It’s easy to think that your problems are so unique that nobody will actually have the right experience anyway. And there’s some merit to that way of thinking. The world changes so quickly these days, especially in technology. So just because someone created a successful marketing campaign for another company five or 10 years ago doesn’t mean it will still translate to how people do business today.

Recently we hired a new vice president of sales who’s got a long resume of relevant experience. It’s been so valuable to have him in meetings where he can immediately pattern match to his past roles and say what’s worth trying and what’s not. In a startup where you always have limited resources, time, and money, starting closer to the bull’s-eye is critical. You’re still going to have to refine that guess for your specific circumstances, but it can save you years of wild goose chases to start with a good estimate.

In the end I think the right answer is you need a bit of both. It’s important to recognize your own bias as a startup entrepreneur. Just because you’ve solved some novel problems in building your business does not mean that all the problems you face are actually novel.

Maybe you created some brand new intellectual property on the product side, but that doesn’t mean your sales model also has to be invented from scratch. Yes, it’s true that nobody’s ever solved your exact problem but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth hiring candidates with relevant experience to help you solve it faster.

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