[published on The Mission]
Few have the entrepreneurial drive or willingness to put forth the effort that a startup demands. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be a “player” at the exit. Risk and reward just don’t add up for some… actually, for many. It’s like the story of The Little Red Hen (none of her friends will help her plant, harvest, or grind wheat into flour, but all are eager to eat the bread she makes). More specifically, the attitude of pay me now (what I “deserve” in terms of wages, bonuses and whatnot) AND pay me later (the slice of the company that I “deserve” when it sells). Somehow, we’ve created this class of entitled wannabes — and it’s not tied to age.
How do you recognize a wannabe?
Well, one way is that they never put the company first. Don’t expect the company to “always” be first in a worker’s life but many times, 8 to 5 doesn’t cut it. Case in point…
We were late getting a major upgrade out the door and were holding several hundred thousand dollars in credit-card pre-orders. Cash was tight (that means we were running dangerously low) and several of the technical staff just didn’t get the urgency. We all sat down and I asked for a monster effort — we practically lived at the office until we shipped (about 4 weeks later). Of course, everyone received bonuses but the wannabes wanted to know the details of the bonus “before” putting forth the effort.
Fortunately, ways to recognize a wannabe can surface during the interview process. Work hours? How much? How many holidays, vacation days, sick days, personal days? What other benefits do you offer? If the candidate seems less interested in the company and the job and how it will further their career than they are in the compensation and the benefits, what does that tell you? If they haven’t looked at your website or checked out the company on social media or performed any form of due diligence prior to the interview, what does that say?
Try to avoid wannabes — they have unrealistic expectations.
Here’s a favorite interview question: “If you come to work at this startup, would you prefer to be paid competitively along the way (in terms of salary, bonuses, and such) with little or no upside at the end OR perhaps a little less than you might otherwise get but with a nice upside?” The answer is very telling (hint… it’s not both!).
Some wannabes are very good at hiding their true nature.
However, the closer you get to an exit, the more their wannabe character will surface. Forgetting that all the while they have been compensated more than fairly, wannabes still want the piece of the pie they believe they “deserve.” All you can do is remind them of what they said they wanted at the onset — so you should probably document this. It’s not so easy for someone to argue against what they said they wanted and that they received… or dare I say, “deserved?”
When our startup was acquired, every employee had a piece of the pie. Several walked away with over a million dollars. Even our receptionist made twice her annual compensation! A few years later, the wife of one of the senior developers told an acquaintance, “most [of the employees] paid off their houses, but that guy [the founder] made a killing!”
Do you think she meant that she was happy for everyone or that the founder didn’t “deserve” [I love that word] what he received? Of course, it was the latter.
- Be crystal clear about risk vs reward at the onset and ask candidates to decide (and to please involve their spouse as it affects the family). There’s nothing that can poison an otherwise great employee faster than a spouse that feels that he or she is being ill-treated.
- Document things along the way. This is not a complicated thing. Create a physical file or simply send yourself an email that summarizes formal employee interactions and include any attachments as well as a unique search term in the text (e.g., EmployeeFirstLast).
As a side note…
When you talk about work with your spouse or friends or whoever, don’t just say things that are negative. Share the positive things as well. In other words, keep it even-handed. If all that comes out of your mouth is how frustrated or disappointed or whatever you are at that moment (no matter how infrequent); believe me… YOUR exit is fait accompli.
Movie Quote: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” — Fight Club, 1999