I have been fortunate to participate in a lot of startup ventures as a founder, CEO brought in from the outside, as an advisor and as an investor. Some have been very successful, resulting in breakout liquidity events. Others have achieved a level of sustainable mediocrity, and a few have outright failed as businesses (but not as worthy ventures since their heart was in the right place).
Arm waving aside, this weekend I found myself thinking a lot about the entrepreneurs and cornerstone employees that I enjoy working most with, which brought me back to a Jim Clark-ism that merits repeating. Jim Clark, as many know, is the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon (now WebMD). Breakout guy with multiple breakout successes, to be sure.
In any event, in "The New New Thing," a fun read by Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball and Liar's Poker) that bios Clark, Clark talks about the types of engineers that he likes to recruit. What Clark says is illuminating, and has shaped a lot of my thinking about recruiting fellow entrepreneurs, key hires and assessing worthy investments moving forward.
Clark says that he likes to hire "pigs," noting that there are two types of employees: "chickens" and "pigs." Both put food on the table, but whereas when a chicken lays an egg, he is merely engaged, a pig is truly "committed" since he has real "skin in the game."
Brutal imagery, to be sure, but we have all worked with people who are technically getting the job done, doing quality work but when push comes to shove, they are chickens. To be clear, most employees opt to be chickens since their career is not their lives, their job does not define them and a myriad of other very valid reasons.
That said, when you are committing 3-5 years of your life on a startup venture, or investment dollars backing entrepreneurs you ultimately have limited control over, you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you've got a pig working on your behalf. I know that I do, and consider myself a big time pig. Oink-oink.