(Originally published on SaaStr — more on that here.)

Perhaps the single most important thing you can ever do in SaaS, at least after $1m in ARR or so, is hire the best VPs you can. We’ve talked a lot over the years about how not to hire a wrong VP of Sales — 70%+ of the first VPs of Sales don’t make it even 10 months.

But there’s a related, larger issue for basically all your first VPs of Every Area. You’re probably going to hire 1–2 VPs that themselves are smart, driven and successful — but that can’t themselves hire good people under them.

This is something you have to be hyper-aware of. Because sometimes, these VPs That Can’t Hire are super smart, super engaging, and super competent. You may really like these candidates. Up-and-comers are a powerful force to tap into. You need to hire up-and-comers.

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But you have to do more diligence to believe it’s not a stretch too far. Don’t just check who they managed at their last company. Check who they hired. Not inherited as a manager. But hired themselves. And make sure they hired at least 2 good folks. And ask to talk to both of those 2 great hires. And figure out if they really are great:

  • For your prospective VP of Sales, did her top 2 hires at least crush it and blow out their quotas? If they didn’t …
  • For your prospective VP of Product, did her top 2 hires ship amazing software? Can they explain every facet of how their best, and worst, features came into the world? If they can’t …
  • For your prospective VP of Engineering, were her top 2 hires just jaw droppingly good? You or your CTO can figure this out. Talk to them. Not over Slack, not over email. Talk.
  • For your prospective VP of Marketing, did her top 2 hires deliver leads? For real? How many? Did they grow month-over-month? Find out. For real.
  • For your prospective VP of Customer Success, did her top 2 hires generate net negative churn? Drive up NPS and CSAT? Drive down absolute churn? Get on jets? Get at least 2 badges (more on that here)? Which badges? What was the top customer they saved, and the top customer they lost? What’s the story here? Do you feel like you’d be lucky to have these 2 work at your company?

Most founders don’t go the extra yard here in talking to their prospective VPs’ two best hires. And you end up with hires that can’t recruit great people. Not because they aren’t smart, or weren’t great Individual Contributors, or even great team leads. But because they’ve never truly recruited someone great before. 95 times out of 100, that’s not a risk you should take.

This is job #1 for all your VPs. Recruiting.

You’ll feel the pain fastest with a VP of Sales that can’t hire, because he’ll miss his number quickly. The impact for a VP of Product that can’t hire will be more delayed, it may take 6+ months, and several releases, to fully manifest itself. A VP of Marketing that can’t hire will hire terrible people — but it may take you a while to see it if they aren’t judged quantitatively. So the tangible effects of a VP That Can’t Hire may take you from 45–180 days to see, based on position.

But it will wreck you as you scale. Yes, maybe you can backfill a few hires. But not all of them.

So my first piece of advice is go the extra yard in recruiting. Talk not just to the VP’s references, but to the top 2 direct reports that he hired. Did he really hire them? Oftentimes, he didn’t. And if he did — are they really great? If he can’t find you 2 great ones to talk to — that’s a huge flag

My second piece of advice is top (i.e., hire above) these VPs That Can’t Hire fast if you do end up hiring them. If you ignore the advice, or take it but ignore the results, and do hire a VP That Can’t Hire … so be it. But as soon as you her unable to hire even one great report — don’t wait for the 3d failed hire. Top her then and there. That doesn’t mean fire her. But you have to hire a real VP. Who will be her boss.

You’ll need a Real VP that can recruit great people.

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SaaStr. Pre-nicorn VC. Co-Founder CEO of EchoSign. Served as VP, Web Biz Svcs at Adobe. Also built nanobatteries implanted inside your body.

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