Startup Execs on the Importance of Hiring Superstars, Not Duds

And they offered secrets on how to get "A" players to accept "B" salaries.

From left: Dan Calista, Samantha Glasberg, Zac Pappis and Michael Rappaport.

From left: Dan Calista, Sam Glasberg, Zac Pappis and Michael Rappaport.

A panel of local startup executives and founders sent a clear message on Thursday: Hiring decisions can make or break a fledgling business.

Speaking at Founder Factory (a day-long conference of local entrepreneurs presented by Philly Startup Leaders) four executives said it’s important to grow a corporate culture that attracts the best candidates. But startups — especially in the early going — are tasked with trying to lure in qualified candidates, but don’t have the money to pay competitive salaries.

So how do you get people to accept “B or C” salaries when they really think they’re “A” players?

Giving them equity is a big help, said Michael Rappaport (no, not the actor.) He’s the CEO of consulting firm Chariot Solutions and repeatedly said his company strives to “only hire superstars.”

“We spent the time to really profile ideal consultants and we tailored our culture and policies around them,” he said. Now the company allows employees to spend 5 percent to 10 percent of their time on continued learning — something his staff was adamant about.

Rappaport also said many companies “don’t factor the cost of hiring the wrong person into the equation.”

“We passed on many people we thought would be superstars and just hired people we are ultra-confident in,” said Rappaport. “I have to pass up jobs I can’t do because I can’t hire people that may or may not succeed.”

Zac Pappis, marketing and business development lead at DuckDuckGo (the Google-rivaling Internet search company that doesn’t track its users) agreed that money isn’t everything. Instead employees want real feedback about their personal development.”

“Nothing motivates like progress,” he said.

Sam Glasberg, head of people at data and analytics firm RJMetrics, said that finding the best employees is all about networking, but cautioned that “you don’t want to start building your network when you have a need, you want to build your network before you have a need.”

“The great thing about the Philadelphia community is how great of a network we have here,” she said. “People in New York even say so.”

To lure qualified candidates, RJMetrics offers an unlimited vacation policy and free food. “In seven years and 125 employees, we haven’t had anybody abuse it.”

Speaking of perks that lure in qualified candidates, Dan Calista, founder and CEO of Vynamic, told the audience about his company’s ZZZmail policy — which forbids employees from sending email on weekends and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m during the week.

“It doesn’t cost anything and gives us a chance to recharge. We’re growing for our people not at expense of our people.” (Learn more about his humble goal to create the healthiest, happiest company in the region here.)

Also, honesty is a great policy. If job candidates are looking for stability and routine, they shouldn’t choose a startup, Glasberg said — and she makes that clear to them up front. But if they want a culture of constant learning that’s always evolving, it’s a good fit.

So what do you do when you have an employee who’s not cutting the mustard? Again, be honest. Give them feedback and don’t be shy.

“Make sure people know where they stand,” said Glasberg. “If they’re not being successful, let hem know. Have a conversation. If it’s not working, it’s not working.”

Pappis agreed that communication is key because “nothing rots a team like a bad team member.”

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