We Rejected Dan Shipper (And What I Learned About Hiring)Posted: May 2nd, 2012 | Author: quintendf | Filed under: Uncategorized | View Comments
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:
— John Exley (@JohnExley) April 26, 2012
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.
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