Hiring from unicorns

I've often found my team and myself falling into the trap of having a preference for, or defaulting to, hiring alumni of hyper growth companies. Many quickly growing startups are filled with ex-Facebookers, Xooglers etc. They’re a hot commodity and usually can get their pick of jobs. It makes sense rationally - experience is key, and they’ll be able to take their learning from their previous wildly successful company and apply it to our situation! The standard trope we use is "they helped build and were early at Facebook - so much experience and learning! They must be incredible since Facebook is now worth a zillion dollars!" However, more often than not, I've found that these mid-level early employees aren’t actually that great and at the worst can be destructive.

One of the major reasons why Facebook, Dropbox and other hyper-growth startups grew exponentially was incredible product market fit coupled with amazing timing. There are obviously exceptions, however in most cases their initial product carried the company through the majority of its growth. This will come across harsh, but what most of the mid-stage (and a lot of the early) team had to do was simply hang on to the rocket ship.

This isn’t to say they didn’t work enormously hard and did whatever they thought was best for the company - but there was simply very little an average employee could do to meaningfully accelerate the growth and almost nothing they could do to derail a company like Facebook in its earliest days. Performance management simply wasn’t a priority given their growth (very understandably). Many of these types of employees can easily fall into a confirmation-bias fallacy where they assume what they were doing was correct because the company was growing.  Maybe it was...but there’s an equally large chance they what they were doing wasn’t working and was simply incorrect. There was simply no positive or negative feedback cycle given the company was growing organically so quickly.

At the next company these ‘learnings’ will be viewed as accurate, verified and will likely not be questioned given their background - however, they have little or no grounding in reality.

I’m not sitting on a soap box saying that people at hyper-growth companies are bad or you shouldn’t hire them - I’m simply warning my future self that just because someone was ‘successful’ at a hyper growth company or ‘early’ at a unicorn it’s no barometer or signal for how effective they’ll be at your company - and be beware the trap that they can confidently believe the wrong thing is right.