Fintech · Startups

Hiring: big financial firm vs. startup?

Richard Johnson CEO of Fintech Startup

August 24th, 2015

I'm talking to someone who's a great fit for one of our positions at our fintech startup but he's only worked for big financial companies like Goldman Sachs etc and I'm worried he won't be able to make the transition from the big company infrastructure and support to a startup. Is it a good idea to take a chance and hire them given it’s fintech?

Gloria Luna VP Marketing - Brand builder and creative problem solver

August 24th, 2015

I think the critical difference between people that excel in a startup after they've worked in a big firm, is the understanding of how to execute without the intricate network of resources that exist in a big company.  I find that either you're a "roll-up-your-sleeves" person or you're not and that is critical to success in a small firm.  That would be something worth probing in the interview by exploring how they would respond in different scenarios.

David Still Founder of Start-ups, Entrepreneur, Financier and Advisor

August 24th, 2015

Years ago, after raising up to $250 million for a finserv startup, I hired top evp professionals from Citibank, Bank of America, First Union and Solomon to be executive managers in the startup - with equity. Not one of them could make the transition from a regulated, risk-adverse, change adverse, large institutional environment to a high growth startup environment with very aggressive institutional investors. I am not sure why, but it is a definitely a profound issue to process. 

Becky Flint Product & Program Executive | Scaffold Consulting

August 24th, 2015

There are two factors to consider:
  • Roles in large companies are narrowly sliced and specialized. Many individuals don't have the opportunity & experience to run the entire function. The analogy I'd use is the bit of a screwdriver, vs. a multi-tool. You may need to assess your needs against the candidate's skillsets and experiences. I had a blog post highlighting similar challenges observed in the PMO function.
  • Enterprises provide good support in all fronts from sourcing to tools. The person in the startup will not only do a broader range of functional work, s/he will also need to build the supporting framework to operate in, e.g. deciding on software, vendor, etc.  
Both these challenges can be resolved, but it takes more effort and initiative for both the startup and the newly transitioned hire. 

Benjamin Olding Former Co-founder, Board Member at Jana

August 25th, 2015

If this actually is your only concern, definitely make the hire.  What's great about a concern like this is you can address it in the first 30 days of employment; this is really not a lot of risk for you or your team and finding high-quality people is hard.

There is a lot of risk to the candidate, and you'll sleep better at night if you're up front with the person right before and after you make the offer.  People who have never worked at a startup are not going to correctly understand what you possibly mean by "can't make the transition," since parsing sentence in the way you mean it requires experience in both worlds.  

So, you have to be willing to be explicit about some of the unwritten rules of a startup (like working until the job is done, never making excuses, being pro-active, getting things done on the cheap etc).  This will feel contrary to what you normally do with new employees, as culturally you don't want to be in the habit of telling people "I expect you to work XX hours this week" or "this needs to get done this week by you only and you have 0 budget to do so."  During the transition period, however, you do need to be explicit - it will feel weird.  

Start by asking them explicitly how they expect a startup to be different than their work experience, then drill down to some hard facts you're guessing they are not going to like.  If you do this, they agree to join and they can't comply (or act resentful), you should have a clear conscious when you let them go.  Actually, in my experience, if you do this and they can't make the transition, they'll quit on their own in the first 60 days; and (good news) many will actually surprise you with how easily they make the transition - to the point you might be embarrassed in retrospect how much you worried about this.

On the other hand, if this is not actually your only concern, but your way of articulating a vague problem with the candidate you can't quite put your finger on, then slow way down here.  You need to do some serious due diligence, and you need to listen to what you are both hearing and not hearing.  Do extensive reference checks and pay attention to what they don't say as well as what they do.  

If this takes too long to do this and they decide to take another position in the meantime, don't worry about it - you need to trust your instincts when something doesn't feel right but you can't articulate why.  Sometimes saying a candidate "doesn't feel startup-y enough" is just a way of saying "even though the resume looks great and I can't articulate what's wrong, I feel something is missing here."  Don't talk yourself out of this feeling: instead, research it like a madman.  You're allowed to talk to whomever you'd like: get on the phone, now.

Jim McClafferty Vice President of Operations at Cook Group Solutions

August 25th, 2015

I've built a successful career working at very large companies and at 1-person startups. I would hate to think how my career might have turned out if I was disqualified from an opportunity solely based on the size of my prior employers. 

Having said that, I acknowledge that not everyone can make the transition from a big company with a lot of support infrastructure and hierarchy to a small startup where you need to roll up your sleeves and get out from behind your desk. I recommend that you have a frank discussion with the candidate and express your concern. Ask him/her to describe the environment they think they are getting into if they take the job and make sure he/she can explain why they are confident they would be a fit in the environment. 

IMPORTANT: If you decide to hire him/her, make sure that you have a plan in place to help him/her transition to the new environment. It's in your best interest to help that be a successful transition rather than waiting to see if he/she is able to adjust.  

Matt Cholerton Talent & People Solutions

August 26th, 2015

Chances are, if he's applying with you, he wants out of the big financial firms and wants to get into the startup scene. He wants more. He might not have dealt first hand with the breadth of challenges ahead, but I bet he'll soak it up. He'll also bring a fresh, and relevant, perspective. If you already feel he's a 'great fit', give him a chance.

Melissa Rich Passionate, Mission Driven, Strategy, Growth & Impact Leader - Founder, CEO, President, Executive Management

August 24th, 2015

If you think he's a good fit for the position and culturally, I would let him know upfront of your concerns about the start up environment.  I have definitely hired people who said they could make the transition to startup - who struggled.  But I think you can assess this in the hiring process by having a frank discussion.

Kate Brodock CMO at untapt & President and Co-Founder at Women 2.0.

August 24th, 2015

Make sure to have an honest discussion with him on environmental and work changes that come with the shift - positive and negative. The more "heads up" you can give him about what he's going to get into, the better prepped he'll be. And share your concern with him honestly. There are plenty of blog posts written out there that discuss moves like this. Here's one we recently featured on our blog, and you can find dozens of similar ones: Sent from someplace other than the office.

Michael Brink Founder at StayHub

August 24th, 2015

I think it largely depends on the role itself.  If you're hiring someone who was a theoretical buyer of your product, they can be great in either a senior product or evangelist type role.  But if you're hiring someone who is coming from a sales/biz dev role with comfort around lumpy/long sales cycles and the associated cash flow implications and moving them to a low touch, high volume driven, low price point ASP then you could have a clash on strategies or or personalities. 

Douglas Kuhn CTO, Strategic Development Engineer at Greenwitch Productions LLC

August 24th, 2015

The transition from a major corporate environment into a start-up environment may not flow as well as a start-up environment into a major corporate one. Both have advantages and disadvantages, the trick is to apply the strengths of each into you particular needs.

Major Corporate, Goldman Sachs, AIG, etc.
  • Nice rolodex of contacts and investors
  • Global Strategy Mindset
  • Has pedigree and fraternity sorority contacts
  • Weak technical "front-line" chops
  • Does not roll-up sleeves to git-r-done
  • Banker's hours only

  • Deep knowledge of the technical "front-line" details
  • 24/7 problem solving
  • Pivots on a dime, without red-tape, formal meetings, etc.
  • Not quite an influential rolodex of contacts, code over golf with VIPs
  • Local Strategy Mindset, immersion in and for the immediate needs
  • Often lacking in pedigree, but has connection to their IRC
Depending on the goals of your company you will need to weigh your options on these.