I love startups and founders of startups. I particularly love those founders of startups that have failed, and when I see a candidate with a failed startup on their resume, I know I’m probably going to hire them.
If I’m looking for a director of marketing, or a senior product designer, or a UI designer with mobile experience, you might wonder why would I care that a candidate created some app that failed or a platform for gamers that never got traction.
If it’s not directly related to the role I’m hiring then it’s non-important, right? A detractor, even.
After all, everyone’s looking for the same two people: the Ideal Candidate. That rainbow unicorn who never quit a job after six months, never took a break to travel the world, never dreamed he’d be a Koum or Chesky. We want the cog who stuck around three jobs for two years each and shows clear professional progression and no resume gaps.
Quite the opposite of the individual who took off on their own, started a project and didn’t turn it into the next WhatsApp.
I want the person who failed to invent WhatsApp.
The person I want to hire is the one that took a chance, raided their 401k and blew off their career arc for a shot at immortality — and missed.
Here’s why I want those unconventional workers and why you do too.
5 Things I Love about Startup Founders who Failed
- They’re scrappy. They figured out how to do whatever they needed to do for their startup. That meant digging in, researching, looking for new paths and solutions. They’ve proved that if you give them something to do that they’ve never done before, they won’t freeze. They’ll find a solution. I want that scrappiness finding solutions for my team.
- They’re gritty. Even the founders who failed had to have grit to get started and keep going. Even if they only lasted a few months, they had to face overwhelming rejection and frustration and disappointment and still pick themselves up off the livingroom floor and keep going. In the corporate world, this translates into employees that don’t disolve in tears and storm out of meetings when something doesn’t go their way. I want that grit in my department.
- They understand time management. Founders know that they have to move fast and cram a week’s worth of work into every day. They focus on what must get done and leave the wheel-spinning, time-wasting, useless tasks off their To-Do list. An employee who can prioritize and figure out which tasks will make the most impact for their departments is the employee I want improving my team’s productivity.
- They can pivot. Being flexible enough to pivot when one direction isn’t working is a rare talent. Startup founders can pivot three times a week without blinking an eye. Something blocking progress? Turn left and see if that will work better. Imagine a team member that’s willing to make change after change without freaking out and taking a personal day. That’s a valuable employee and someone I will be able to rely on.
- They’re resourceful. Need a way to track projects and people without subscribing to a really expensive piece of software? The founder has already found 3–5 freemium products with plugins that will do just that — or they’ve built their own application. The employee that solves their own problems without costing my division any money is worth their weight in gold.
- They failed and they started again. Someone who has tried something, put their wholehearted all into it and failed has come through the fire and become a stronger person for it. This will be an employee that is tempered and calm. They won’t be easily thrown by all the crazy things that happen in business, but will be able to roll with the punches and keep going. Isn’t that everything you could hope for from an employee?
But they’re just going to leave and try to found another company, aren't they?
Maybe they are. But employees never stay around longer than 2 years anyway (see The Perfect Candidate above) so why would I forego two years of an incredible team member because I’m eventually going to lose them?
Unconvinced and still looking for that unicorn of perfection? Go right ahead and keep your candidate search going. You’re leaving all the best hires for me.