We’ve shared here and there posts about our experience as first time entrepreneurs. One aspect that became quite visible those last weeks for us with Stephan’s arrival is that as first time entrepreneurs, we’re also first time employers (few of us start companies with the objective of staying with the founders alone onboard). I summarize here various thoughts (from the “employer” perspective. For the employee, you’ll have to ask Stephan).
Risk and Opportunity
Managing a company is basically taking one million decisions a day. But some are more important than others, such as: “do we hire someone” and “do we hire this guy”. There are both tremendous risks
and enorm opportunities here (especially with the first one).
Risk, of course. I did hire some developers in my previous job. Some turned fine, other badly (the hiring, not the developers). But this is different in so many ways: it’s the first one, and we are a team of two founders, not a well established development team. And it’s our money (well, almost).
With an existing team, you have what is needed to get someone onboard properly: time, existing procedures, colleagues and peers he can turn to. You can probably absorb a bad hire, should it happen (it will cost, of course, but if it’s one developer among five, well, it will probably impact at most 20-30% of the team productivity).
Bad hires (that can be as simple as “bad matches”) are costly to any team. But they can be particularly dangerous for startups. We have less time, less resources. We simply cannot afford a bad hire.
And here come the opportunity: with tight resources, one more person makes a world of difference. It’s 50 % more resource in the company. 50 % more ideas. 50 % more energy. It’s the possibility to advance on so much subject that are important but never made it to the top of the pile (like stopping creating VM manually). So, yes, it is a risk. But a worthy one.
Disclaimer: We work in Belgium. Some points here may be “localized”, even if I think they should hold for other (European) countries as well.
It is a custom in Belgium to complain about how costly it is to employ someone (not only in IT, but generally, as taxes and social security costs are deemed high). While the full debate would take more that this post (and involve long discussions about what kind of state you desire), my very limited experience is that yes, employing is costly, but not in the way most people talk about it.
There is the employee cost (his global cost for you as an employer), of course, and yes, it can be pretty high (even if compared to, say, San Francisco, it is probably still reasonable). But it’s also the time cost, ie, the time you’ll use for the various administrative tasks linked to your new function as employer. And this, I would say, is somewhat daunting in its complexity. I see myself as pretty smart, and not frightened by a little administrative mumbo-jumbo, but this goes over the top.
We took a very good decision by deciding to pay a “social secretariat” (an organism that can take charge of a lot of employer related stuff, and serves as an intermediary between you and the various state-related agencies). It is cheap, and gives you a golden key: a single point of contact for everything “employer” related - from contracts to payment to holidays or sickness.
Even with this, it stays complex. Many administrative procedures are mandatory in Belgium (e.g., being insured should one of your employee get an accident at work, having a “work health policy”), which I actually agree with, but still need separate set of papers, agreements, and signatures. My “employer introduction ceremony” (which was done in a very informative and courteous way at UCM) involved I think signing 15+ documents. Although I made sure on the moment to understand what each was about, I confess I did not read them all. At this point, the famous “no one should ignore the law” become a sort of bad joke - like it is in IT with the various Terms of Services and EULA.
Being somewhat prudent on those subjects, and willing to make things properly involved many verification of my paperworks, and many contacts with the UCM. I strongly advise any would be employer in Belgium to take contact as soon as possible with a social secretariat (and again, our experience with UCM is top notch).
Single sentence version: Dear Government, I do not complain about the cost, I complain about the complexity. Especially for small shops.
One more guy...
The basic and more important consequence of hiring are none of those. It’s that when I arrive in the office, there are three desks, and two other guys, not one. On a very personal and group dynamic, it changes a lot of things. Of course, the roles are somewhat different. But the basic version is that we were a company of two, and we are a company of three. And that’s good, first of all for the internal dynamic.
But of course, we cannot (and want not) to “manage” Stephan the way we “manage” ourselves (or fail to). He is part of the team, of course, but there is a big difference of function, not that much on the “deciding/executing” axis (we hire people for their work and their ideas/opinions, not for being coding monkeys) but on a more general work organization axis: we want to provide him with better opportunity to concentrate, that will be beneficial to his work, and ultimately 8th color’s projects.
...that gives power
And this is one of the point that give him “power”: above and beyond all the skills he has, being able to concentrate on a task for a couple of days make a world of difference, so it’s very important to be sure he’s not distracted or blocked by anything. That means basically discussing the tasks, giving an idea of where we want to go and how this would help.
Finally, having to organize ourselves a little more, at least to be sure to provide Stephan with a reasonably stable and comfortable context of work also started to impact us, in a good way. We need a set of tasks for him to do at the start of the week? Maybe we should do that for us, too. It’s not the only reason of getting progressively more organized (at least to avoid too much task switching), but it’s one of the reasons - we need to do it anyway, but here we must do it, and that helps.
This starts to look really good.