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RodinStar / Startup

The Startup Hiring Moneyball



Awarded the

“RodinStar” Post 

of the week!!


The good and the bad going on in your startup right now is, in a way, the effect of the hiring efforts you put in, whether it be for co-founders or employees. It is people who build great products, billion dollar companies and make work fun. So, hiring should be your number one priority.

Hiring the best of the best in technology, is not easy. Especially for a tiny startup like yours which is tight on cash, and has to compete for talent with the other tech-giants and the so called “best companies to work for”. So, how do you do it?

Enter …… The Startup Hiring Moneyball

“I’m not paying you for the player you used to be, I’m paying you for the player you are right now.” – Billy Beane (Moneyball)

Finding talent

Take Jeff Dean for example. (If you don’t know Jeff Dean, he created Google’s search indexing and data-processing infrastructure. Compilers don’t warn Jeff Dean. Jeff Dean warns compilers). The day he walked in, to take the Google interview in 1999, he was definitely not as well known as he is now. And the best work of his career was yet to come. You need to identify talent that can solve your company’s problems right now and become superstars tomorrow as your company grows.

The Superstars of yesterday … irrelevant for you.
Not everyone who built great things in the past is a good fit for you. People who show-off their old trophies and ride too much on their past achievements instead of being genuinely excited about the opportunities in front of them, are a No-No. Startups disrupt, do something new. What someone built in their old job can’t just be forced or copied into your startup. Consider the playbook from their old job irrelevant. Don’t hire if you feel that their career has already “peaked”.

The Superstars of today … too expensive for you.
There are great guys with plush salaries in top companies and they are building technology right now that can cure your startup’s achilles heel. If you find them, don’t be afraid to ask them to join you instead. More often than not, the really good guys (who will grow to be superstars tomorrow) don’t care that much about money. They care about the opportunity to build great things. They are looking for a change because they are caught up in the red-tape of their big company. Rescue them. But if they get too much hung up on money, drop them. Its ok. They are not worth the cost.

The Superstars of tomorrow … you want them on your team now.
You can identify them first by their zeal and passion to solve hard problems. They take ownership and get hands-on. When you get into a discussion on challenges like a hard math problem or terabytes of data or billions of requests…. their eyes would glow, they start speaking faster and the body language changes – they get super excited . And thats not enough. They have to demonstrate that they have the skill or ability to learn fast and get the job done.

Screening talent

The first time you evaluate a candidate, you are most likely looking at their resume. And lets say you see this:
“Java, Eclipse, SWT, JFace, EJB, XML, JDBC, Jsp, Struts, Swings, Spring, DOJO, GWT, Flex, JSP, Java Bean, JDBC, SQLYOG, PhpMyAdmin, Drupal, WordPress, SVN, Mysql Query Browser, Toad Mysql, Lamp, Wamp, Xampp, PgAdmin, Zope&Plone, Dolphin, Dokeos, Zend, PHP-CodeIgniter Framework, JQuery”

Drop that resume and get rid of the head-hunter who sent you that.
Its like you want a good carpenter to remodel your home. And you see a resume that says: “Hire me because I know how to use 1/16”, 5/64”, 1/8″, 3/16”, 9/64” screwdrivers, yellow-color measuring tape, extra-long pliers, 16 oz hammer and ear-plugs.” 
Resumes should focus on what they built not the tools they have used.

On the other extreme you have resumes from people in big companies that describe in great detail about a high-level product, which is most likely a copy-paste from their company intranet. Instead they should have highlighted what their contribution was.
Resumes should focus on what they built not what an entire team of 12 launched after a year.

When you meet the candidate in-person, in-addition to the technical skill evaluation, pay close attention to personality and look for bias-for-action, inclination to adapt and jump-in to fix things.

Do they have the right attitude? 
Would you like working with this person everyday? Can he take ownership of what he built? Given set priorities, can he manage himself or does it require micromanagement?

Can they get the job done now? 
Is he/she hands-on or just a talker? If the job requires coding, can he do a coding problem right now? How does he react if he is faced with a problem that he feels has no solution? Can he “MacGyver” something, if the right tools are not available?

Are they a superstar of tomorrow? 
Is he/she genuinely excited about solving hard problems? Can he grow to take bigger responsibilities and tackle bigger complexities as the company grows?

Getting them to join you

This is the hard part. The better the candidate, the less likely he is to join you.

The better the candidate, the more the number of companies competing to get him. If you are tiny startup that no one knows about yet, the acceptance rate from candidates could also be low. Don’t let it be that way. You have to really “sell” your startup to the candidate to increase the acceptance rate of your offer to almost 100%. Here is something I do and would recommend:

– Sell “Yourself”: Just like you are evaluating them, they are evaluating you. Tell him about your journey, why you are doing what you are doing. The biggest reason why they should join your company is that they get to work with you!
– Sell “Work and Vision”: Tell them your vision. Tell them why your company will rule the world and how they can be part of that story.
– Sell “Team and Culture”: Tell them how your company selects only “A-players” and that they get to work with top-notch peers. When they visit your office to interview, take them around to get a feel for team and culture.

The Ever Rising Hiring Bar

As you are hiring new people, make sure you are raising the bar. Your selection criteria should be more stringent for the next person you hire compared what it was for the previous one you hired. A company that I know implemented this well was Amazon. Create a high hiring bar. And have “bar-raisers” who keep raising the bar for new hires.
During my stay in Amazon, I have personally seen Jeff Bezos emphasize the high hiring bar and how interviewers should hire people who are so good that the interviewer himself should feel intimidated by that candidate’s skill!!

Hiring is not easy. But playing this startup moneyball lets you focus your efforts better as you grow your startup.

About myself: “Yet Another Entrepreneur”. Co-founder of the mobile-ad-platform startup “Bidstalk”. Contact me on LinkedIn or at or on twitter at @gunakakulapati.

Are you passionate about Ad-tech? Data Science? Large-scale technology? Big-data infra? Or just want to know what we do? Contact me. 🙂


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  1. The timing of this post couldn’t have been better. I’m just in process of building/hiring my first team for my startup.

    Thanks Much, Guna!

  2. awesome post

  3. welcome to trhs guna! 

    i see a great writer in you!!! 

    i just LOVED your screening talent tips (“would you like working with this person everyday” is very important to me!) , getting them to join you tips and of course, the superstars of tomorrow.

    90% rodinhooders i meet face two probs: hiring the right people. and retaining good people.

    i hope you talk about retaining good people in your next post :)))

    i’m linking this post to alok’s “How I Hire People” – feel free to comment there as well.

  4. This one’s a really well written article. Loved the comparison between the carpenter skills and developer skills.  I’ve actually seen such “I know everything, Hire me now!” CVs…

    Rightly said, it’s not what you’ve done that matters, it’s what you can do now and are you willing to learn something new? I remember from an earlier post, describe your skills on how you contributed to the end result.

    In my first and only interview for a job, I was asked about the last project I worked on. The project never went live but what mattered to my interviewer was how I’d explain and sell my “last project (idea)”. (BTW, I did get the job.)

    Here’s something for the future (after hiring): Devils of Salary Raise by Abhijit Khasnis (Co-Founder –

    We at focus on building a platform that makes it easier for you to find better candidates even faster. You can reach me at siddharth (dot) jaiswal [at] for your hiring needs. 🙂

  5. arrre siddharth!

    just feature myNoticePeriod in our showcase! section :))) 

    then you won’t have to “plug” – we will promote you bindaas!

  6. Haha.. I wanted to add it here because:

    • I got the job.
    • Devils of Salary Raise was written by the Co-Founder.
    • Guna’s post is really a reflection of what happens. 
  7. Excellent post Guna. Loved it!!

  8. Thank you everyone for the very warm response to my first post. I am very happy to know it was useful for fellow entrepreneurs.

    Asha: Rightly said. I am planning to write about the retention part in one of my next posts. Also, thanks a lot for linking this post to Alok’s “How I hire” post.

  9. Terrific post Guna.

    I am at the “butterflies in the stomach” stage of my start-up, as it is almost ready to go live but I seem to have become over sensitive over night. Suddenly I have started discovering small flaws almost daily. 

    And my hiring stage for my start-up would be much later but I am already in a job and I can really relate to the article. In fact some tips would help in my current assignment too.

    Keep the good work up and looking forward to your next post. All the best !!

  10. guna – i felt like messing up the top part of your post!!

    sowrie 🙂

  11. Very Well Written!

    Checked it before here on  Linkedin. The TECH Language part was Dope 😉 

    “Java, Eclipse, SWT, JFace, EJB, XML, JDBC, Jsp, Struts, Swings, Spring, DOJO, GWT, Flex, JSP, Java Bean, JDBC, SQLYOG, PhpMyAdmin, Drupal, WordPress, SVN, Mysql Query Browser, Toad Mysql, Lamp, Wamp, Xampp, PgAdmin, Zope&Plone, Dolphin, Dokeos, Zend, PHP-CodeIgniter Framework, JQuery”

    Though we have a Rodinstar post of the Week for the Last week in the Current Year, and the First with a Shared WEEK BETWEEN 2014 and 2015, so if that counts in either of the ones.

    Congratulations! on the First Purely 2015 Rodinstar POST 🙂 Cheers!


    Put about 100 Bricks in some Particular order in a closed Room with an Open window.
    Then send 2 or 3 candidates into the room and close the door.
    Leave them alone and come back After 6 hours and then analyse The situation..
    If they are counting the Bricks. Put them in the Accounts Department.
    If they are recounting them.. Put them in Auditing.

    If they have messed up the Whole place with the bricks. Put them in Engineering.
    If they are arranging the Bricks in some strange order. Put them in Planning.
    If they are throwing the Bricks at each other. Put them in Operations.
    If they are sleeping. Put them in Security.
    If they have broken the bricks Into . Put them in Information Technology.
    If they are sitting idle. Put them in Human Resources.
    If they say they have tried Different combinations, yet Not a brick has Been moved, put them in Sales.
    If they have already left for The day. Put them in Marketing.
    If they are staring out of the Window. Put them on Strategic Planning.
    And then last but not least. If they are talking to each Other and not a single brick Has been Moved. Congratulate them and put them in Top Management

    Think – Do – Be #JustBeingMysElf #WikiRH

  12. Great post Guna. Thanks!

  13. The Dummies Guide is hilarious Darshan. Thanks for sharing.

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