Is a startup the best place to train someone?

She came in for the interview and was very impressive. Great academic credentials, worked for a major consulting company, and had lived in Africa. I was impressed by her confidence and she explained her ideas clearly. As we talked I asked her about how she would deal with certain practical situations. I was less impressed by her answers. I asked about the most important experiences in her career. Again I was concerned as all I heard was stories about presentations to clients.

Should I hire someone who has knowledge but very little experience? Is a start up the best place to train someone?

Our new admin assistant was paying invoices to a fake company

During the first three years of operation, I signed every check and reviewed every bill. The volume increased beyond what I could handle so we hired a full-time administrative assistant. She was a friend of one of our employees and came from a large company located in the city. I was so glad to get rid of this task.

We got our accounts within 10 days of the end of the month. Everything looked OK. One day I was in our bank and ran into the local bank manager who asked how things were going. I told him things were good and we were profitable and growing. I told him we had a new admin assistant who had come from XYZ company. He asked her name and when I told him, he was very concerned.

He asked if we had asked for references. I told him we had and he advised that I start looking at all the invoices and making sure I knew how we were paying. I wasn’t sure why he said this, but it sounded like good advice with no downside.

I spoke to the admin assistant when I got back from the bank and asked to see the invoices from the last month. Right away, I noticed several new names and that one new supplier had sent in four invoices that month. I got suspicious when I asked our operations people about the company and they had never heard of it.

When I went to the admin assistant, she said she just paid the bills managers signed. I took three invoices to the responsible managers. They knew nothing about them. When I confronted the admin assistant, she denied anything was wrong. I called phone number on the invoice and it went to voicemail. The voice on the message was the admin assistant’s.

I fired Alan after he was rude to a customer

This was the third time Alan had been rude to a customer. I spoke to him but he ignored me and didn’t listen to what I had to tell him.

This time the customer wrote to me and told me what had happened and said this was the last time he would do business with us. He bought 3.4% of everything we sold, so I went to see him myself and said I would handle his account. He demanded we fire Alan. I was so mad that when I got back to the office, I called Alan into my office and fired him. I refused to write a reference and just paid him until the end of the month.

Everyone in the office was surprised by my reaction but no one said anything.

I wasn't thoughtful enough with hiring and we had to go through the process twice

We had six people on our team and we need two new people. One for general support and one for project management. I was nominated to do the hiring even though I had never hired anyone before. I made everyone write down what we needed the new people to do. When I read all the replies I wasn’t really clear about what we needed. I didn’t want to bother everyone again so I wrote up my own lists.

We had more than 50 applications for each job. The project managers that applied came from larger companies and described the complex projects they had managed. When I started interviewing them, they asked for a job description, which we didn’t have. Then the applicants started asking questions I didn’t know the answers to. They weren’t things we had thought about in much detail. The interviews didn’t go very well. I did, however, find three people who I thought were good and should be interviewed by the CEO.

The interviews with the CEO were a disaster. She had a completely different view of what the job entailed. Two candidates withdrew their applicants. The third was hard to get ahold of and no longer seemed interested.

We decided to start over. This time we looked at job descriptions for similar startups and positions and got templates of job descriptions off the internet to start with. The team went through these, made changes, and agreed on what we needed. The second time around, things went much better and we hired two great people.


I'm exhausted and I need help

I’m exhausted. My voicemail is full and I only sleep 4 hours a night. I’m doing everything: I’m the CEO, COO, sales director, HR, accountant, and marketing director. I have no social life.

Sales are increasing and I have over 100 customers. Most months, I’m cash positive, but barely. This isn’t fun anymore.

I need help. When is the right time to bring on someone else? What happens if I bring on the wrong person? What happens if sales slow down?

She was clearly talented, but had I hired the wrong person for my startup?

Sally joined us after five years in brand management and marketing at Proctor and Gamble. She knew more about marketing than any of us and we valued her insights and experience.

Her first day, she let us know she found her working space too noisy with people talking and phones ringing. She was used to leaving at six, but everyone else worked well past then. Sally prepared a brilliant presentation on how to develop our brand. Her ideas, however, were very expensive and we couldn’t afford them. It seems she didn’t quite understand the culture and limited resources of a startup.

Still, Sally’s ideas were good and everyone tried to find a way to use the ideas in ways more suited to our budget. She got upset because she saw the discussion as personal attacks on her and her integrity. She had come to show us how to do things and build the company. She said marketing was the most important thing and we should cut all other costs to support her plan. No one knew what to say and tension in the room grew.

She was clearly talented, but I was wondering if I hired the wrong person.

The importance of knowing who you are hiring

I really liked John when we meet. He was smart, had an MBA, and had worked as a management consultant. He also told me that he was a qualified accountant. I hired him and we worked well together.

John gave me references but I did not contact them before I hired John. Then one day I was looking at LinkedIn and went to see John’s entry. The CV that was there was very different from the one he gave me. I was especially concerned that one of the references/employers he gave me was not on LinkedIn. I decided I needed to find out what was going on. 

I called the university where John said he got his MBA. They had no record of him being a student. The college where he said he got his accounting qualifications said he never completed the program. I realized the business and I could have gotten into severe legal trouble if I had trusted his accounting advice and it turned out to be wrong.