Seth Lieberman | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Seth Lieberman

Background:  

Boston-based SnapApp runs a software platform used by business-to-business marketers to create, publish, manage and measure interactive content.

The Mistake:

The biggest mistake I'd say is hiring too quickly because you're stressed and you need to fill a position. So you're growing quickly and you just need more sales people, or your VP of sales quits and you kind of quickly search or stumble upon a good enough person who you think can do the job. When you're overburdened or stressed about it, you're just going to hire that person and put them in quickly. Ninety-five out of 100 times that ends up being vastly more expensive and painful in the long run [as opposed to] sucking it up for six or eight more weeks of pain to really find the right person who's going to be a building block of the company and grow with you.

It's like buying a car. If you've driven a lot of cars before, when you get in a car you have a pretty good feeling if it's going to meet your requirements. If you've only driven one or two cars before then you really don't have any idea. I've hired a lot of people at this point so I have a pretty good sense of what makes people successful. If you build on that treasure trove of data and experience, then you're in a better position.

That very first candidate to come through the door oftentimes can be very tempting because they seem good enough to fill that position. I won't say which company it was at, but on the VP of Sales side, we hired some people we thought were good enough only to realize six, 12 months later as we got into it that they simply didn't fit. ... They weren't able to be in the trenches and coach, and manage and mentor—they were able to run a large organization but they weren't able to flex down to the size of our small organization because they were too senior and not able to get in the weeds enough, and therefore the reps felt out of touch.

On the engineering side, if you hire someone that's too senior as VP of engineering, then what happens is they don't want to do the same kinds of things, but with engineers—helping them think about career paths, helping with code reviews. They could work on technical due diligence of acquisitions, but we're 65 people so we don't do a lot acquisitions, shockingly. So there isn't even that role here.

So you've got somebody who convinced you they could and probably has done that job in the past but doesn't want to do it anymore.

When you've got a problem, you've got to put a stick between your teeth and go deal with it.

The Lesson:

There's two lessons. One is tried and true, which is you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I've never fired anybody that I didn't wish I'd done it sooner. When you've got a problem, you've got to put a stick between your teeth and go deal with it. It doesn't get better if you wait, ever.

And the second one, which I really try to live every day, is I'm a huge believer in intellectual honesty and continuous improvement. The facts are the facts—excluding alternative facts. For the company, if things are bad, that's OK—we're not going to pretend they're good. We're going to acknowledge that things are bad and then we can say, "What do we have to do to make them better?" And the people that raise their hand and want to make them better, they should stay. The ones that don't want to tackle that? OK, no harm, no foul. But they're not a fit for the company anymore.

The lessons are hire slowly, fire quickly, and be really intellectually honest about your mistakes and what's gone well and what happened—then be proactive about fixing them.

Follow SnapApp on Twitter at @Snap_App.

Photo courtesy of Seth Lieberman.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Boston.