We Rejected Dan Shipper (And What I Learned About Hiring)

Edit:  To clarify some confusion over on Hacker News: Dan reviewed this post in its’ entirety before it was published. I gave him final say on whether or not it was published or submitted here.  He thinks the entire thing is pretty funny and will probably jokingly hold this over my head for months.

 

Last Thursday I jumped over to Twitter and saw this via my friend John Exley:

 

 

I was  blown away by the post and thought it was great to see this sort of thing written about an awesome guy like Dan.  I agree entirely with Jason Freedman’s thoughts on hiring, and loved seeing him put everything into his strategy of courting top talent.  It was cool to see Dan earning some (well deserved) attention for the following he has built over the past 2 years through his blogging and various projects/products.

The story also was cause for a little humor and embarrassment on my part.  See, a little over one year ago Dan Shipper applied for an internship at my last company.  And we rejected him.

 

Dan applied via our jobs page.  His application listed some interesting experience (Blackberry app development when he was still in high school, two small webapps), but nothing immediately relevant to our needs.  He also listed a few things that seem funny to look back on now:  His first semester college GPA, and his role as high school senior class president.  Altogether, it was an interesting application- but quite frankly, not very different from many similar applications we received from college students looking to work at a startup.  I sent him a quick response thanking him for his submission and looking to schedule a brief interview.

Here’s where Dan began to differentiate himself.  He followed up persistently (we were in the middle of Techstars at the time and had trouble coordinating an interview time), and kept me up to date on the explosion of Wheremyfriends.be, a simple webapp he had built with his friends Wesley and Ajay.  We finally found time to schedule a lunch, and he and I ended up spending half of an afternoon talking about product, startups, and education (I had recently dropped out, while Dan was committed to staying at Penn).

After our long conversation, it was clear that Dan had the mentality and intellect of an A Player.  He was young, driven, and extremely intelligent.  But in a review between myself and the company cofounders, one sticking point kept coming up:  Not enough relevant development experience.  We were trying to build a core front end team that had an existing passion for mobile/tablet, and Dan was a square peg in that round hole.  So we rejected him.

Rejecting someone you genuinely liked interviewing is tough, and I thought the least I could do would be to introduce him to other internship opportunities that might be a good fit.  I connected him with the awesome founders of Artsicle, where he ended up interning for the summer. Dan was extremely gracious about the entire thing, and I was happy to see him end up in a good situation.

Of course, looking back on it, the fact that we rejected the guy who is now being publicly courted by a well regarded startup like 42Floors is pretty funny.  However, in reflecting on this story, there are a few important lessons to learn as an early stage startup:

1. Look for talent at all levels: At the time that Dan applied, we had no plan in place for hiring technical interns.  We were focused on building out our “core” tech team, and really weren’t prepared for talented but raw engineers to step in and contribute.  We ended up rectifying this situation and finding two incredibly talented engineering interns, but we missed on Dan and several other potential candidates.  In a startup environment that is a constant battle for talent, early stage companies simply cannot afford to pass on talent at any level.  When we were absolutely buried with product needs in the weeks leading up to launch, we wouldn’t have given a damn if Dan did or didn’t fit our neat round hole of a job description.

2. Always hire A Players: This is repeated often enough that it’s a truism in the startup community, yet we still got this one wrong when it came to Dan.  As a startup, if you have the opportunity to bring on an A player in a low risk role (like an internship), you do it.  No questions asked.  Because finding A players is tough.  When one drops into your lap, you don’t hesitate or shuffle through your available job listings.  You pull the trigger.  In a company of less than 10 people, A players will naturally fall into the role that best suits them.  They will contribute at a high level, and attract other high level contributors to join the team.

3. Treat People Right: I could have easily made the mistake of sending Dan a polite rejection email and nothing else.  Instead, I followed up and worked hard to help him find another opportunity that made sense.  We got coffee the next time he came to the city, and met up when our schedules allowed over the summer.  I took something that could have easily been a negative interaction and turned it into a positive opportunity to build a friendship.  Whether we end up working together, competing, or just staying in touch throughout our careers, it’s great having a smart friend just an email or phone call away.

 

In our email banter about the blog post and subsequent Techcrunch and Hacker News coverage, Dan joked that maybe I finally owed him an apology for our rejection.  Even though that statement was made entirely as a joke, I don’t mind eating crow:  Like 42Floors made their offer as an open letter of recruitment, consider this my open letter of apology.

Making decisions in a startup is hard, and you absolutely cannot get every one right.  I’m lucky that this mistake turned into a positive (and humorous) learning experience.  Congratulations to Dan on one hell of a year, and best of luck to Jason Freedman and the team at 42Floors in courting A Players like Dan.

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you can follow me on Twitter.  Thanks for reading!

 


  • http://about.me/khaliqgant Khaliq Gant

    Great honesty here! Point three “Treat People Right” is one of the more important ones to me, and commendable that you handled it the right way. 

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com Quinten Farmer

    Thanks man!  Glad you enjoyed it.  

    Always have to be willing to go back and laugh at old mistakes :)

  • Travis Corrigan

    Super impressed by the seen and unseen humility to write this post. Learned a lot. Thank you for writing.

  • http://www.digitalocean.com/ Moisey Uretsky

    Required reading : Good to Great.

    Step one get the A players on the bus even if you dont have a seat for them or know where they will sit in the future.

    Totally agree.

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com Quinten Farmer

    Thanks Travis!

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com Quinten Farmer

    Agreed! Great book.  Should have referenced it in this post.  

  • Anonymous

    Agree. There are very few people that can write a post like this. I think you can see a lot of what makes Quinten such an awesome guy in it.

  • http://twitter.com/SolidSlug SolidSlug

    The thing is: A players are not naive, they don’t relish the thought of being saddled by hustlers who intend to ride them to the top of the mountain. Part of “treating people right” is sharing more than the crumbs. Granted, you can’t make everyone a co-founder, but there is quite a bit of leeway between that and token equity.

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com/ Quinten Farmer

    Although equity is definitely important when bringing A Players on in full time roles, I’m not sure how that is relevant to this post?

  • Hod Benbinyamin

    I met Dan few months ago at HN.
    He blogged about a website he wrote in few days and already managed to sell some services.
    After some emails with him i told him- You are the next Bill Gates / Larry Page / Name it.
    Dan- I am following you. One day me and you will establish a great Start-Up

  • wait wut

     That sounded very stalkerish lol

  • FAKE GRIMLOCK

    FROM NOW ON, 1ST INTERVIEW QUESTION FOR ALL STARTUPS: “ARE YOU DAN SHIPPER?” 

    http://fakegrimlock.cheezburger.com/6193650688

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA 

    this is one of the better gif’s or memes or whatever they’re called that I’ve seen in a while…

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    100%

    This is just example number like eight hundred of why Q is such a good dude. It goes beyond business, whether or not we ever work together etc., he’s the homie. In and outside business. 

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are only two people in NYC that I would legit trust my own and my family’s life with, and Q is one of those two people. That high trust. Dude is almost always the most mature person in the room – which is ESPECIALLY impressive given his age.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    Q, my brother, great post man. I had no idea Dan chased yall at Onswipe and got no’d. That’s crazy to know, and really respect you for writing this post both in jest but also in the genuine way you always conduct yourself – which is to admit you/your team made a mistake in passing on him. 

    Helping him find an internship that suited him and then continuing to be there for him is also so legit. Where I come from, they used to say things like “loyalty is currency that can’t be bought, only earned” or replace loyalty with “trust” or whatever, stuff like that. But it’s SO TRUE. You can’t buy someone’s trust or just ‘act/pretend’ to be loyal. That stuff is just who you are as a person or a clear, glaring void in your character… in my opinion, anyway. 

    And this post and the story itself exemplifies how legit and genuine of a trustworthy and loyal person you are. In my opinion anyway, and I know of course I am the dude who is almost always positive/upbeat/having nice things to say about people, but for real not a freaking CHANCE I would go out of my way to find this post a week later and type out this comment if I didn’t mean it with everything I’ve got. 

    And shout out to Dan. Good work this year.

    -X

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com/ Quinten Farmer

    As always, Exley is far too kind :) 

    One of my favorite things about this industry (and the NY/Northeast side of it specifically) is the supportiveness and constant encouragement that comes along with it. 

    Good people working hard to solve interesting problems.  What more could you ask for?  

  • Luz118

    Great post :) 

  • http://straightoutthegate.com/startups-are-flinging-job-offers-at-dan-shipper-but-the-20-year-old-philosophy-major-would-rather-stay-at-upenn/ Startups Are Flinging Job Offers At Dan Shipper, But The 20-Year-Old Philosophy Major Would Rather Stay At UPenn | Straight Out The Gate

    [...] It’s not the first time he’s been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets. [...]

  • http://anthonycampanella.com/2012/05/21/startups-are-flinging-job-offers-at-dan-shipper-but-the-20-year-old-philosophy-major-would-rather-stay-at-upenn/ Startups Are Flinging Job Offers At Dan Shipper, But The 20-Year-Old Philosophy Major Would Rather Stay At UPenn | Don't Call Me Tony

    [...] It’s not the first time he’s been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets. [...]

  • http://fortress-capital-group.com/archives/4271 Startups Are Flinging Job Offers At Dan Shipper, But The 20-Year-Old Philosophy Major Would Rather Stay At UPenn | Fortress Capital Group Limited

    [...] It’s not the first time he’s been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets. [...]

  • http://old.fortress-capital-group.com/2012/05/22/startups-are-flinging-job-offers-at-dan-shipper-but-the-20-year-old-philosophy-major-would-rather-stay-at-upenn/ Startups Are Flinging Job Offers At Dan Shipper, But The 20-Year-Old Philosophy Major Would Rather Stay At UPenn « Fortress Capital Group Limited

    [...] It’s not the first time he’s been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets. [...]

  • http://www.lionmade.com/ign/2012/05/22/startups-are-flinging-job-offers-at-dan-shipper-but-the-20-year-old-philosophy-major-would-rather-stay-at-upenn/ Startups Are Flinging Job Offers At Dan Shipper, But The 20-Year-Old Philosophy Major Would Rather Stay At UPenn | Digital Wealth

    [...] It's not the first time he's been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets. [...]

  • http://www.spindows.com/ Clay Hebert

    I’m lucky enough to know Quentin personally and I second @JohnExley:disqus ‘s thoughts – this post is even more proof what a great guy Q is. Wicked smart, nice beyond belief and more mature than most guys twice his age. And if you ever see him on a basketball court, get on his team. You don’t want to play against him.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    100% Clay

    Except I can’t speak for basketball… haven’t seen him on the court, though if I was still playing I could prolly take him! Hahah. 

    Q is the real deal tho.

  • http://www.spindows.com/ Clay Hebert

    He’s a BEAST on the court. 

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    I’ve always said I have to come watch a game sometime 

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com/ Quinten Farmer

    Thanks Clay! Really appreciate the kind words… and the backup when it comes to my hoops game :) 

  • http://www.lionmade.com/ign/2012/12/04/a-bunch-of-students-think-they-may-have-found-the-next-mark-zuckerberg/ A Bunch Of Students Think They May Have Found The Next Mark Zuckerberg | Digital Wealth

    [...] Last summer I applied for an internship at a startup. They didn't want me but they introduced me to Artsicle's founders, Scott and Alex, as an [...]

  • http://anthonycampanella.com/2012/12/04/a-bunch-of-students-think-they-may-have-found-the-next-mark-zuckerberg/ A Bunch Of Students Think They May Have Found The Next Mark ZuckerbergDon't Call Me Tony | Don't Call Me Tony

    [...] Last summer I applied for an internship at a startup. They didn’t want me but they introduced me to Artsicle‘s founders, Scott and Alex, as an [...]

  • http://blog.monophotos.org/a-bunch-of-students-think-they-may-have-found-the-next-mark-zuckerberg/ A Bunch Of Students Think They May Have Found The Next Mark Zuckerberg | Tips for the Unready

    [...] Last summer I applied for an internship at a startup. They didn’t want me but they introduced me to Artsicle‘s founders, Scott and Alex, as an [...]

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