Having recently joined a small startup, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about building teams from Stripe (you can see a list of posts and videos by Stripe at the bottom of this article along with my notes).
I chose to focus on Stripe because I really admire their team’s quality and their emphasis on showing rather than telling. You’ll rarely hear Patrick or John Collison say “we hire rockstars” or “we only take the best of the best” or some derivative of that phrase. Instead, they show that they hire great people through every little detail on their product, website, and blog post they write.
Moreover, Stripe is also unique in how long-term minded and deliberate the founders are in building their team. Stripe took nearly 2 years to recruit their first 7 people and the first few hires went through weeks of interviewing before joining. This to me is particularly unique in an environment where companies can easily slip into using headcounts as a proxy for progress.
So what then can we learn from this original approach to team building? Below are the high level lessons I’ve picked up. Note they are just my opinions and not fact.
1. Build a Brand For Your Team
Building a great team requires building a brand. You and your team can’t just be good. You have tobe knownto be good. In fact, for their first few hires, Stripe focused on people who were known amongst their friends to be great so that those people brought that brand with them.
If you want an authentic brand, you need to show rather than tell. The best ways to do this is through your product, writing (high leverage), talks, and providing value to a community (open source, hosting competitions etc.). Stripe does this through their fantastic core product, landing pages, open source retreats, blog posts, and Capture The Flag competitions.
To build your brand, start by writing down 3–4 simple things you want your team to be known for. Try to go beyond generic things like “smart”, “passionate”, etc. Branding is about being different. Stripe’s brand is different in that it focuses on the following unique things - being engineering driven, detail oriented, and developer focused.
2. Talk To People Regardless of Whether They’re Looking
This requires you to take a long-term and patient perspective. When the person is ready to leave what she is doing, you want to make sure that your team is the first one she reaches out to.
3. Building Structure vs. Plugging Holes
Great teams view hires as a way to build a long term structure and hope to keep each hire well past the original role for which they hired them. These teams are proactive about finding such hires and don’t wait for specific needs to seek them out.
Others view hires as a way to plug holes. They notice they are missing a certain role and go out to the market to find someone to plug that specific hole without wondering about the long term role of that person. Their mindset tends to be reactive.
4. Good Hiring Reinforces Itself
Good hires allow you to do far more with fewer people and thereby give you a lot more time to search for your next hires. This to me is how Stripe was able to hire so slowly in the first place. Each person they brought on initially was so strong that they had the ability to take on longer hiring horizons and really be patient about finding great people.
5. Think About Your Team Like a Product
Building a team is a creative process much like building a product. As such, you can leverage a lot of the same things you use to build a great product to build a great team, including the below points:
Assume that your first attempts at building a team are imperfect (a first draft of sorts). See what metrics and signals you can use to improve so that you can converge to a more optimal solution.
Just as with products, see how you can constantly get honest feedback both internally and externally about the quality of your team so you can improve it.
And that’s it! Those are the main things I’ve gleaned so far along with a few of my own thoughts. Below are a few of the resources I used to learn about Stripe along with a few notes I took. If you’re interested in helping build a great team at the intersection of Biology and Machine Learning, reach out to me at email@example.com!
Patrick Collison’s talk with Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures