Few CEOs doubt their startup is the next billion dollar opportunity. That’s not terribly surprising nor is it a bad thing. After all, you’ve got to be confident to be successful in business.
But even if you’re a fearless leader with a quality company and a great product, trying to nab an engineering executive straight from Salesforce isn't necessarily a wise move. There’s no denying the allure of a person who has a resume peppered with big names like LinkedIn, Amazon or Google, but if you’re an early-stage company, a later-stage candidate may not be your best choice for a variety of reasons.
The fact is, someone who has been a part of management at such large companies often won't be a good fit for a budding startup. Sure, a candidate who’s managing 100+ people has a great-looking resume, but (s)he may not be the right person to manage an eight-person engineering team. (S)he probably manages through managers and doesn’t code anymore, and may not be in a place to do the heavy lifting required to get the work done at a smaller and more nimble company, where resource constraints are much more real than at more established companies.
Engineering isn’t that different from a lot of other executive positions. Most companies go through three VPs over their life cycle. The first will be entrepreneurial; the hands-on, get-the-product-to-market person. This person isn’t focused as much on scale and may manage zero to ten people. Next, you have the builder, who’s very good at growing a team. This person is good at creating a modularized and flexible process while preparing the company to scale. Finally, there are the later stage folks, who are helpful in chasing a public offering. These execs may even manage other VPs and enjoy managing teams of 75 people or more.
As you might guess, these three types generally have very different personalities. You may find a person who can scale through two of the buckets, but very rarely will someone fit all three, or even want to fit all three. The good news is that it’s totally reasonable to swap out your VP of engineering every few years. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to be successful. Not only that, but experienced leaders usually become fairly self-aware when the company has passed the sweet spot for them, and you can part ways amicably, with both parties getting what they need.
This doesn't mean meeting later-stage candidates is taboo. For one, building relationships is still the best way to make quality hires and that person might make recommendations or come on board later down the road. Sometimes, their company was acquired and they may miss the excitement of the earlier-stage company chomping at the bit. You never know. The candidate may think it’s an incredible opportunity and it could be the perfect fit after all.