If I had to single out the most important quality people in the startup community should have, I’m not sure it would be intelligence, raw intelligence, IQ, competence or niceness or attitude or being effective or transparent or humility.
All of the above are important, and the combination of the above qualities makes for the best hires.
But for me, the most important quality is care.
Caring enough to solve company problems.
Caring enough to move things.
It sounds so simple. But when you think deeply, it’s so hard to find. Usually the founders of a startup care the most, but to hire people who care even close to the intensity about your company that you do is hard. How can you find people to care about the problems you’re trying to solve? It’s really hard to find.
For an employee, it goes beyond yourself and working toward something larger than yourself.
It’s not just caring about design if you’re a designer or solving the hardest engineering problems but problems that a company faces. Caring enough to move things and make things happen.
Most of the problems in a startup take more than one person. To get things done you just can’t care about your own work or yourself. You need to care enough to collaborate to solve things. You have to care to fix and build what’s broken and missing. And you can’t do it alone, but you need to care enough to get it done. It requires collaboration, knowing how to work with people and sweating details.
Most people do what they’re told; it’s just the easy way out. Caring about the bigger goal is the more difficult road.
Also I’m not saying it’s the only quality to look for, there has to be competence (skill) and integrity. But it’s the one thing that stands out in the best people I’ve worked with and is not talked about enough.
How do you find people who care about things? You can detect it to some extent when you interview them and hear them talking about what they’ve built, what they’ve solved and how they did it. Did someone in operations suggest a feature for a product, did a designer take initiative beyond product design and what he’s told to solve something else, did an engineer build things which wasn’t asked of him which proved to be some pivotal things? These are some easy examples of people caring about something bigger. People who care usually have taken initiative in various forms and probably failed at times but they cared enough to do it in the first place.
To understand early signs of people who have cared when interviewing: asking what they’ve failed at, what they’ve taken initiative to do and most importantly why they did the things they did in their previous job.
As companies grow in size this quality becomes a little less critical.
For startups, we have to build companies with people who care. There is no shortcut.
Change is hard and the only way to create change is through care.
Some additional notes as I was thinking about this:
1. If someone is really smart but doesn’t care, they’ll do what they’re told and fix things but won’t extend themselves beyond that. That’s where hiring people with just skill or high raw intelligence can go wrong.
2. Niceness does not equate to caring intensely about things. Neither does humility or integrity.
3. Time needed to manage people who care is a lot less.
4. Caring and compensation: I don’t think you can incentivize someone to care. It comes from within. If a person doesn’t care, throwing more money or equity can’t convert a person.
5. As a manager you can help develop that quality –by giving people autonomy and respect. Allowing them to go outside their roles to build and fix things. You can build a culture of a company that values care over anything else, intentionally.