Should Startups Hire for Today or Tomorrow?

'01 (100)' photo (c) 2012, Victor1558 - license: Selecting and hiring talent in today’s market is perhaps the most critical success-factor for high growth startups. Yet these founders face a dilemma: Should they acquire talent to address today’s challenges and goals, or hire leaders with the head-room and skills to scale and anticipate future opportunities?

Earn the Right
Startups need to solve today’s challenges to earn the right to address tomorrow’s opportunities. By failing to focus on immediate challenges, such as meeting the needs of your early customers, the challenge you anticipate in international expansion will never materialize. It’s important to seek individuals who can drive near-term success, and thus position a company for growth.

Near-term challenges are inherently tactical in nature. The early success of a startup often hinges on the success of those first beta customers. Focusing on issues that guarantee that success is a matter of working day-to-day with customers, iterating product enhancements in response to market feedback, fine-tuning marketing messages and so on. The challenge is finding leaders who can scale down sufficiently to lead the company through these early challenges, while having the experience and knowledge to build scalable organizations that will sustain rapid growth when it comes. Focusing too heavily on a leader’s skills at managing established organizations creates the potential for leaving a leadership vacuum during this more tactical phase.

Seek Scalability and Potential

High-growth companies face challenges that evolve at rapid pace, and thus no company can afford to adopt a sequential approach to hiring. The best leaders are those who bring experience of what needs to be done today, with the capabilities to create the organization that can efficiently scale in pace with growth.


The rapid pace of change inherent in a high-growth environment leads to a dynamic culture that makes change the only constant. As a result, the nature of a leader’s charter will evolve rapidly, as will the cultural environment, moving from an agile, responsive organization to one structured around processes designed to facilitate growth. Leaders therefore need not only to be personally adaptable, but equally to hire for adaptability and instill a culture of embracing change in order to ensure the organization remains fit for purpose over an extended lifecycle.


The question of whether to hire for today or tomorrow becomes a false dichotomy. Scalability and adaptability become necessary requirements in durable leaders of start-ups. Organizations don’t have the luxury of selecting talent based on the needs of today, because tomorrow is just around the corner, along with the fresh challenges that come with it. Leaders with the aptitude and desire to operate at all levels, tactically and strategically, are the only ones with the skills required by the unique demands of the startup environment.

Bio: Kevin Buckby is a Partner at Riviera Partners. He focuses on helping his clients compete successfully for the most highly sought-after product and marketing executive talent. 


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