The importance of good people

In my job, I get to meet lots of people at startups and big companies, and more and more I’m reminded of the fact that successful companies are all about the people. Back in my startup days, VCs and advisors always looked really closely at the team and the people as a indicator of potential success. At the time I really didn’t understand, but now that I’m exposed to as many companies as those VCs see, I get it.

When I first started at Yahoo seven years ago I knew I walked into a very special place. I realized that I had just walked into a company full of incredibly smart people who were practical and passionate and could execute. It took me a while to get comfortable and to work at their level, but I knew we were gonna do lots of great things.

Now when I look at startups, I look to see if they have what I first saw in Yahoo:

  • Company A – This company got a lot of initial buzz about its founder and the area they were entering into, and got a bunch of initial usage from folks “in the know”. Since then though, the company hasn’t seemed to take off. When I met their head of BD at a conference (one of about only 10 employees), he struck me as someone who just wasn’t very happy in his job, wasn’t very excited about the product and overall really wished he could be doing something else. On top of that, he struck me as not really “getting” all the great things we see transforming the web. Here’s a guy that should be exciting and passionate, but I was left feeling like this company wasn’t going to be the darling we all expected it to be.
  • Company B – This company really doesn’t have the buzz of company A, but is plugging away at doing interesting things and my guess is that they are hoping to be acquired by Yahoo, Google or MSN. I had a similar experience though when I met their BD guy. He just rambled on about things that made it clear that he really didn’t understand the space. I later met the CEO and other members of the team and felt that they do have some good folks, so my verdict here is mixed. Overall, their performance has been mixed. Their products get a little attention, but don’t seem to ignite a lot of passion from users or the community. Is the root cause that they have hired a mixed bag of people?
  • Company C – This company seems to be taking off like a rocket. From the moment I met the people from this company I was impressed. They all were talented, passionate and execution oriented and they reminded me of how I felt when I started at Yahoo: they were all smarter than me. One by one as I met these guys it was clear that this company was going places. As they’ve hired, I’ve met their new employees and they are of the same high caliber as the others. This company’s results have been stellar, they are innovating like crazy and I’m now always keeping a close eye on what they are up to. They’ve figured out the formula.

I guess the moral of the story is that the most important thing anyone can do in their job is to hire the best people. People who are passionate, focused, smart and more than capable. I’ve been lucky to find such people for my team at Yahoo! If I ever were to go down the startup path, hiring the best people would be my #1 priority, because I want to end up like Company C.