As a startup founder you have to judge people often — hire them, partner with them — and nobody really trains you for this.
An awesome post by Pmarca mentions a great trick for diagnosing a key quality in hiring prospects. Integrity is so important, but it’s super hard to filter for quickly. Andreessen has a great hack. The post doesn’t appear to be online anymore, so here is a piece of it (thank you Pocket!):
Third and final criterion: ethics.
Ethics are hard to test for.
But watch for any whiff of less than stellar ethics in any candidate’s background or references.
And avoid, avoid, avoid.
Unethical people are unethical by nature, and the odds of a metaphorical jailhouse conversion are quite low.
Priests, rabbis, and ministers should give people a second chance on ethics — not hiring managers at startups.
One way to test for an aspect of ethics — honesty — is to test for how someone reacts when they don’t know something.
Pick a topic you know intimately and ask the candidate increasingly esoteric questions until they don’t know the answer.
They’ll either say they don’t know, or they’ll try to bullshit you.
Guess what. If they bullshit you during the hiring process, they’ll bullshit you once they’re onboard.
A candidate who is confident in his own capabilities and ethical — the kind you want — will say “I don’t know” because they know that the rest of the interview will demonstrate their knowledge, and they know that you won’t react well to being bullshitted — because they wouldn’t react well either.
So I was hanging with a member of the web glitterati today (he name dropped Jay, as in Jay-Z) and we had a lovely conversation about product design that I think is YOUR roadmap for diagnosing great visual product designers for web/software. In no particular order. With answers.
What’s great about Windows 8? The start screen with the colorful tiles that are superflat (cool new style that is very influential across UIs the last year or so), dynamic/active (unlike iOS icons), and really WIDE (screens are wide! use it! scroll/drag over)
What other Microsoft product is ballsy and innovative? Office was amazing when they blew away the iconic and ancient File menu bar up top. Ballsy!
What’s lame about Mac OS X these days? The least original OS out there these days – all the old metaphors, nothing new.
Remember when Facebook apps were a taskbar at the bottom. What fatal weakness does it reveal in Zuck? His first computer was a Windows 95 whitebox and he couldn’t imagine a fresher way to handle apps in the Facebook stream till Apple and Twitter showed him notifications and stream embeds.
Who was more important: Blogger or Movable Type or Live Journal? More users? Blogger. More cred among early digerati? MT. But Live Journal was the inventor of everything in the modern social web — both features like follows and friends and tech like memcache.
The answer is the “comments box”. What is the question? What is the ugliest most useless part of every blog or media page?
What makes things interesting to read online? Visually? Lists, bold, pictures, spaces, and how about good words edited by someone who knows how to write.
Don’t like my answers? Well, maybe you don’t. But if you use this as your filter for “who has good taste” my questions do lack the timeless panache of the Andreessen patter.
Here is the deeper and timeless one. For the interviewee: Pick a popular product (Facebook, OSX, the comment box) and have them go deep. Where did it come from? What’s original? How is it better than this other one? What would you change? What behavior sucks? A person with taste has answers to these questions. There is no “yeah, it’s just there”. It’s the opposite of the Andreessen integrity question. You don’t end up saying “I don’t know.” You end up going on forever and ever and ever.
And what it reveals is that you have been thinking and using these products with great passion and interest, forming opinions and linkages for a long time. This is where great taste comes from. (It can be about other stuff too, like music or food, not just products.)