Finding the right team for a startup is hard.  You are often facing a tradeoff between limited resources (cash and equity, which themselves can have different values to different people) while looking for people who not only meet your current needs but your future plans.  And for many key roles, once you find those people, you have to compete for them: most active startup cities are busy places, with many good ideas for the talented to pick from.

So what do you do when you can’t find what you need?  You grow it.  I think my friend Max Shron makes this point nicely in this DataGotham talk on finding a data scientist: for many startup positions that are not exact maps to other fields (like software development, design, marketing, etc.), you cannot expect to find someone who has all of the skills simply because the field itself is too new.  And even for fields that are established, in a small market or a competitive market (which essentially covers all markets at this point), you may have to accept a less experienced hire.

As any good farmer knows, some seeds are better for growing than others.  If you know that you are hiring based on growth potential, some of your search patterns need to change.  For one, make the explicit choice to privilege personality over experience.  Too often, I watch entrepreneurs acknowledge that they are going to need to grow someone into a role, and then concentrate on resume and experience-level as a way of deciding who to interview.  If you know this is a growth role, personality is the single most important variable in your hiring process.  Look for good cover letters that are personal and personable, and refer to resumes only as an indication of variety and intent.

The interview is also different for a growth role.  Instead of trying to understand their experience, you want to understand their motivation, both level and direction.  To understand skills, ask questions that focus on the future, rather than the past: what do they want to learn how to do, how do they want to grow the role, how do they see that growth contributing to the business.  Don’t bother asking about their desired reward: plenty of people have said they are not motivated by money, and then discovered their own sensitivity to it around acquisition time.  Instead, try to get at motivation by asking them why they want to work at a startup instead of a larger company.  If they’re going to have to reach every single day in order to do a job they may not really be qualified for, they better know why they are there.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of having people solve problems in interviews, but growth is synonymous with the need to find novel ways to solve problems when you don’t always have all the skills already.  Try to get at who they would ask when the autodidactic approach fails.  Growing someone can truly sap all of your energy if you become the gateway through which they find all information.  You want to know that they understand the organization of a startup and the skills that people throughout the community can teach them.  Especially if you’re in NYC, where people are often far more willing to help than in The Valley.

In the end, look for someone who reminds you of yourself.  While senior employees often need to be differentiated so that they can provide different viewpoints, chances are that if you’re running a startup, you yourself are the kind of person who expands to fill the needs of a role.  If the candidate feels like they could be your younger sibling, you’ll probably in good shape.  Trust your gut!

This is another one of those posts about how to spend some money in an awesome way.  You’ve been warned.

I’ve written before about why I love AdventFinancial and their awesome founder, but I’ve never really told the story of what I do about it.  Because I like the Advent product, there is all the normal startup stuff I tend to do: introducing, recruiting, BD, etc.  But because I like Advent people, I do something a little different: I buy them lunch.

The nature of the tax business is that during the season, your entire life stops.  It is easy to talk to folks in August, when they’re really just thinking about the financial backend, some light selling in for next year, counting coup from last year.  But try to reach out in January, as all the tax preparers are coming online, and you might as well be on mute, unless you have an actual problem that needs solving.

Fortunately, Advent is in Kansas City, almost across the street from a noted BBQ place called Jack Stack.  So a few years ago, I started sending them lunch once in awhile during their toughest season.  For about $250 bucks, I can feed the 30ish employees a delicious buffet of three kinds of meats, bread, slaw, sauce, beans, potato salad, and all the plates and napkins and such.  All from the comfort of my NYC apartment.

There are lots of things you can do with $250; though the buffet is cheap in that it feeds a large team, you could make a credible argument that it should go to charity.  But in a world of double bottom line businesses and startups that are actually trying to make things better for folks, there is more than one way to give.  In the same way that supporting a parent that you are connected to, a neighbor or parent or relative, helps raise better children, spending time or money to help a prosocial startup can be a way of making the world better.  Looking out for those who look out for others, as it were.

One of the great lessons of social psychology has been that small gestures often have disproportionately large results.  In truth, I could probably just stop by each Advent employee’s desk with a cookie and a smile and not have to pay for lunch, but I’m not close and so that isn’t possible.  And $250 worth of food really can have a large effect; in every study that has looked at what motivates quality in the workplace, “feeling appreciated” tends to top it out.  Food from a non-affiliated person who thinks what you are doing is great?  Now that’s a feeling of appreciation.

Something to think about when you’re figuring out how you want to encourage and enable companies who are doing good things.  If you’re in the startup community, you’re likely connected to many people who are working on positive projects – it is worthwhile to keep them motivated to do so.

NOTE: Please do not send me lunch.  I’m still eating the jelly beans.

First, read this.

Second, I need to point out that this story is not true.  Do you hear me, internet?  NOT TRUE.  The Daily Currant is like The Onion, a satirical newspaper that pokes fun at things.

Third, even though it isn’t true, it is entirely believable, which is why so many people passed it around as true.  Partially because we’re happy to think that Bush just isn’t terribly bright, but more because the UI for voting is terrible.  Really, really terrible.

And it isn’t like we don’t know how to make good UI.  Collectively, we’ve created Facebook and Twitter and Mint and thousands of examples of truly unique interfaces that enable people to make incredibly complicated and detailed decisions.  In voting, you’re just picking one thing from a list of things.  A series of dropdowns would be better than what we have now in most voting markets.

The real fun of this story, though, is not in thinking about what better UI might look like, but rather the forces that are driving design in the world.  Overwhelmingly, design innovation comes from the private sector, the need to drive people to a decision point in an ever-increasing way.  The race to conversion, because it is the clearest metric that predicts revenue, means that companies are constantly recruiting for a combination of designers and data scientists to run every possible variation, chasing improvements as small as 0.1%.

Non-profits and the public sector just don’t have the same use for such small differences and as a consequence, we miss out on the big differences.  Voting software is built primarily by engineers concerned with security and redundancy, and because there is no concept of conversion, it could be the world’s most frustrating experience.  After all, as long as people persevere and vote for someone (regardless of whether it is who they intended to vote for), nothing changes.

It is, in a sense, the problem we have with any captive audience: as long as people don’t have a choice other than participate or don’t participate, and incremental participation isn’t considered as a success metric, then nothing changes.  Particularly because this is not software that is built in the public sphere, so things like Code For America have an uphill battle to get involved.

So what do we do about it?  For one, we need to employ some of the data science I talked about earlier.  Unless we test whether people are actually able to vote for the candidates they intended to, we have no way of knowing whether a UI is appropriate.  Indeed, intention congruence should be the new primary metric for judging voting software, followed closely by a subjective measure of the quality of the experience.  After all, if people don’t feel like voting was a good experience, then they won’t do it again.  Year-over-year participation, for example, should be considered.

And then, quite simply, we need designers who treat this problem like a commercial one.  Given the metrics, they need to design against them and have the opportunity to A/B test and refine in waves.  In a commercial atmosphere, this is standard fare, but in the public sphere, it is far less common.

I leave you with this thought experiment: how much is a vote worth?  That is, a single voter who is able to vote for the candidates of their choice effectively – how much should we as a country pay for that?  Let’s pretend you said it was worth a $1 to get an incremental voter through the experience.  ~126 million people voted in the 2012 presidential election.  That 0.1% change I mentioned early?  Its worth $126,000 each e