Neill Feather | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Neill Feather

Background:  

SiteLock is a website security firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. With more than 8 million customers worldwide, SiteLock offers cloud-based website protection and 360-degree monitoring.

The Mistake:

We were hiring smart people, but they just weren't able to work in a startup environment.

Prior to being one of the co-founders at SiteLock, I worked in enterprise companies for over a decade – companies like GE, Kimberly-Clark and Johnson & Johnson. Those types of companies work very differently from entrepreneurial organizations and small businesses, in general. One of the big differences is the pace of work and the amount of flexibility that’s required. Priorities change on a daily basis in a world like ours. 

I'd been around startups, and I kind of knew what that world was like, but you never really anticipate it until you get into it. I often joke that things here are like dog years – every year here is like seven years – in terms of what you learn and the amount of work that gets done.

Early on, we would hire folks with enterprise-type backgrounds from big companies. Many of them hadn't considered the change that's required to work in a company with 50, 100, or 150 employees like we have now. It’s very different than working for a company with 100,000 employees.

We had a lot of "false starts” with folks that came with really great resumes and really great experiences. We were hiring smart people, but they just weren't able to work in a startup environment where priorities are shifting all the time and where the pace of work is extremely fast.

Some people like structure and knowing what their month is going to look like. Here, what you thought you were going to be doing at 9 a.m. ends up being completely different from what you’re doing at 2 in the afternoon.

I often joke that things here are like dog years – every year here is like seven years – in terms of what you learn ...

The Lesson:

One of the things we learned when talking to people in the interview process is to be very upfront about how this company works to help set the expectation. Folks who are up for it and are excited, that’s great. That’s who we want. But folks who are concerned about it – or fearful or uncomfortable working in that kind of environment – we don’t move on in the process with them.

Now, early in the recruiting process, we’re able to screen the right kind of cultural fit and the kind of person who’s going to work well in this kind of environment. In the beginning, we weren’t doing the best job at that. But it’s been very impactful for us in terms of the ability to bring on the right hires, make the right calls and be much more efficient in how we are onboarding.

The success rate in hiring people is so important because you can spend a lot of time bringing people along and training, only to have them leave when they realize they weren’t ready for the pace and the change. Now we’re able to coach that in from the very beginning.

We were putting square pegs in round holes for a while. Sometimes people think they want to work at a startup because enterprise life is slow. But when they get here, it comes as a bit of a shock. 

We’ve been much more clear and up front in the interview process. We just want to be realistic in what we’re presenting and make sure that they understand things so that they can be successful.

Follow SiteLock on Twitter at @SiteLock.

Photo courtesy of Neill Feather

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