Make 4 promises to hire better staff for your startup team


Image of two people shaking hands against a pink background.
Image Credits: Bernhard Lang (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“When I hire someone, I make two promises. And I ask for two promises in return,” said Paul English — currently the co-founder of Boston Venture Studio but perhaps best known as the co-founder and CTO of travel platform Kayak. “I promise them that they will have the most fun they’ve had at any job.”

What he means by “fun,” he explained, was that he likes to give people the freedom to do what they need to do — to try things out.

“The second promise is that your skills will accelerate faster than at any other company,” he added, suggesting that he really values investing in staff and trusting what they do. A micromanager, he said, is failing at both of those promises: It isn’t fun, and the team isn’t trusted to work toward their goals.

“If you are micromanaging, you are already failing to realize that a person is no longer a good fit for the team. It doesn’t mean they aren’t talented — it may be just a case of the wrong person, wrong place.”

We caught English as he was talking at a conference organized by venture fund Baukunst in Boston yesterday. We wrote about the new fund’s first close back in April; yesterday, the fund announced that it had closed its full $100 million fund — the largest amount raised for a debut fund at the pre-seed stage.

So what does English ask from his employees? That’s where things get truly interesting.

3 ways to hire well for your startup

“The two things you have to promise me is that if you join my company, whatever job you are doing, you have to be the best there is,” English said. “If you are a QA engineer, you have to look at me and say, ‘I’ll be the best QA engineer in the U.S.’”

He told me that the company really focuses on excellence and has a deep commitment to being the best there is.

“The other promise I ask of you is that you have to be an energy amplifier,” he said. “What that means is that when people add ideas, the response is ‘yes, and.’ We train people how to do this, and I’m told improv comedy is actually really good training for that. If you’re serious about making somewhere the most fun place people have ever worked, this is really important.”

English highlighted how important it is to double down on letting people feel free to speak their ideas and contribute to the culture of the company.

Paul English, co-founder at Boston Venture Studio, speaks alongside Giorgos Zacharia, president at Kayak, at the Baukunst Creative Technologist Conference in Boston on October 25. Image Credits: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch

“It is about people — think about the fun places you’ve worked, and how the people around you affect you. Are all the people sitting around you energy vampires, or do you have fun with them? Do they enhance your ideas? Do they stimulate you? Or are you sitting with someone who’s kind of an asshole?” English said.

To him, sitting passively in silence is a failure as well.

“If there are people around you who’re silent and not engaging you? That means I have failed in the promise I just gave you, which was to give you the most fun job ever. I take my promises very seriously: Am I going to promise someone fun, and yet I make them work with assholes? That doesn’t work, I would fail, and so if that happens, I have to remove that person from the culture. They are causing stress.”

Perhaps it’s a drastic approach — suggesting firing someone for brooding in the corner — but English absolutely has a point here; company culture is cultivated and built, and whatever is fueled will grow.

“I will hire people even if I don’t have a job for them if I meet somebody really, really amazing, both in terms of output and drive,” English said. “And if they are also a really fun teammate, I’ll hire them and make a job. I’ve done that many times in my career.”

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