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Book Excerpt - Smart Startups: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Advice from 18 Harvard Business School Founders

Editor's note: The below is excerpted from the book SMART STARTUPS: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know - Advice from 18 Harvard Business School Founders by Catalina Daniels & James H Sherman. Copyright © 2023 by Catalina Daniels & James H Sherman. Reprinted by permission of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

"I moved to the U.S. as a refugee when I was six years old. We came with absolutely nothing and started out literally getting charity and scraps. I actually, very acutely, even as a young person, felt like we had this second chance and this ability to start a new life here. So, I’ve always been passionate about creating opportunities for others. That has taken different forms over time. I started at McKinsey. Moved to nonprofit. Was in nonprofit after HBS. And later, I cofounded Werk."

Anna Auerbach, Egon Zehnder consultant

Whether born an entrepreneur or not, the first thing you need is passion to create. Being entrepreneurial will require a lot of energy and if you do not have the passion, there is a high likelihood that you will run out of fuel.

Anna and her cofounder, Annie Dean, founded Werk in 2016. Werk initially started as a job marketplace and later pivoted to an enterprise SaaS platform helping companies to improve their flexibility performance through data. Werk helps companies understand their flexibility baseline and gaps, the needed investments to close those gaps, and the impact of flexibility on their business metrics. Werk is headquartered in New York, raised $3.9M, and was acquired by the Mom Project in 2020.

Tips to Hire 

Anna Auerbach joined Egon Zehnder, an executive search firm, as a consultant after selling Werk. In one of our interviews, she shared insightful tips on how to hire the right people.

BE AWARE OF BIAS. You tend to like people that are like you. Within five minutes you will like or not like someone. But whether you like or don’t like someone doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the job.

FOCUS. Your mindset when you’re interviewing and hiring is very important. You cannot be looking at emails. Even if you’re on a Zoom, shut everything down. Shut it all down. Be present.

HIRE FOR CURIOSITY. Curiosity underpins everything. How much are you actively seeking different perspectives? How much are you actively asking for feedback? How much are you actively working on yourself? Those are the people that will scale with your company.

SPEND ENOUGH TIME. Spend an hour. Nobody likes hour interviews. People want to do thirty-minute interviews. There’s nothing you’re going to get done in thirty minutes. I think thirty minutes is a waste of time. Really take the time. Leave the space. And the answer kind of comes out.

LOOK FOR THE HOW, NOT THE WHAT. What people should be looking for is not what people did, but how they did it. This idea of potential is a way to sort of frame what drove them, how they accomplished the things that they did.

CHECK UNPROVIDED REFERENCES. The last bit is referencing. Try to trace an unprovided reference. That is the most important thing. So, not just references your candidate provides. Ask for the real story.

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