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Herein lies the problem for early stage companies trying to hire. The people they really need/want are probably capable of starting their own companies.

Not necessarily. At my company, all our early dev hires are awesome people we think will be capable of starting a company one day, but aren't yet. Our goal is to teach them what they need to know so that in a few years they can do that handily.

Some of the things we plan to help them learn: corporate equity, pitching VCs, negotiating investments, dealing with investors, handling PR, user testing, user context research, product management, UI design, A/B testing, running production systems at scale, software processes, and engineering management.

We definitely can't offer them more money than Microsoft or Google can, but we sure can teach them a lot more.

That's... actually a really great pitch. Job as startup school. Nice!

Thanks. I figure it will motivate us to keep the work interesting enough that they won't flee. Which in turn will force us to build a much more robust company. We'll see, though.

What are you doing to ensure that employees receive that broad an experience? In the startups I've worked for, the founders were loathe to involve employees in business development, let alone financing.

Depends on the person and their interests, really. A lot of the day-to-day stuff (product prioritization, feature design, user testing, operations, development process) is easy to get people involved in if they want. We definitely involve everybody with recruiting and hiring, which I think is vital for startups.

Direct involvement in financing is, as you expected, hard. But we try to be very open. Everybody knows the burn rate and the terms we took money under. Everybody regularly gets updated on dealings with our investors. We also have a regular brown bag series. A couple months back, my co-founder did one on venture financing, covering both the basics and our specific fundraising effort. He did another one recently on the competitive landscape. And he's an awfully good presenter; you can see a 5-minute talk he did recently on our approach to testing product ideas:


Thanks for responding! Sounds like an interesting company. I wish more founders took this attitude.

<epiphany> A small non-technical founding team looking to hire the best technical person they can is effectively looking for a co-founder, not an employee.

So you're right, the coder who would be willing to consider such early involvement in a project is probably fairly entrepreneurial and will lose out if he is taken on as anything other than an equal co-founder. </epiphany>

This has been my feeling previously, but this post and the comments helped make it concrete.

At the same time, unless you're lucky enough to start with the backing of Y-Combinator or somesuch, there can be value to learning about the process while the money involved is someone else's and not your own.

Edit: I realize this is a somewhat heretical idea around here, but the difference in stress when it's your life savings in the mix and your responsibility to make payroll is quite substantial, and being an early employee gives you a window into the process without having to push all your chips to the middle of the table on your first go around.

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