A lot of times, the entrepreneurial life is brutal. It’s hard work, sleepless nights, and a truckload of stress packed into a lifestyle many yearn for. It’s complicated and nuanced with a life lesson seemingly waiting around each new corner.
With a large number of ups and downs, not everyone is ready or made for an entrepreneurial life. You need to be able to understand a few simple, yet highly valuable truths about life and business which you’ll then live by. Choosing loyalty over talent is one such truth I learned the hard way.
Confidence in abilities doesn’t equate confidence in a person
At the very beginning, we don’t fully understand what businesses are – a living entity that is your responsibility. When aspiring entrepreneurs build a startup or start a business, their mindset is focused on the great idea they have and executing it. Such a scenario is fine up to a certain point – until you realize that your business is like a child, your responsibility for all of its lifetime.
The problem is, people don’t make that transition in their minds. They don’t really understand the scope of what they started and instead focus solely on getting the ball rolling. If you have that mindset, you start bringing people to the table because you can’t work alone. What follows is very curious:
you go for the best talent.
You hire the best graphic designer, the best R&D person, the best this and the best that. The problem with going with the best of the best is that it’s opportunistic on both sides. Because that person is the best and has no relationship with you, you can’t know if the chemistry is going to work. You can’t know if your interests are and will be aligned.
There’s a really astute sentence in Hebrew I often use that says:
I trust every person in the world but I don’t trust the situation.
In our entrepreneurial context, what it means is that having the best person for a particular role is fine IF their state of mind is the same as yours. As you can see, that’s a big ‘if’. You can easily wind up with yourself on one side – a responsible, parent-like person who is efficient – and your partner on the other – spends money, cool and flashy kind of a person. When running a business, those two are incompatible. You’re going to be busy trying to be everywhere and keep everything under control instead of just taking care of your work and managing.
This happened to me a few times until I learned my lesson for good. The really annoying thing with super talented people is that at the end of the day, you’re not enjoying what you do. You’re even unable to focus on it and grow your business (and yourself, along with it) because you’ll be tangled up in internal politics. In the long term, that has never proved as a good strategy.
Loyalty is a way to manage stress
Running a business is a job that never ends, which is why I stress the multifaceted importance of responsibility every so often. Even someone not talented can become talented – it’s up to you to help them get there, to provide the push when they need one. You can trust them as they actually want to work with you and learn more. As a bonus, you don’t have to get them excited every morning for the tasks at hand.
It may take more time to grow the business (a couple of months, a year maybe) because you won’t be surrounded by top-tier talent BUT you’ll love what you do. Money may not be as good but you’ll sleep firmly at night and have the same level of passion and enthusiasm as on day 1 because you’ll be working with “normal” people, people you can rely on.
That type of relationship always produced more money and better businesses in the long run because business is a lot about how much you care about it. Always go for loyalty and people with whom you have good chemistry over talent if you’re perceiving your business as a long-term investment and not as an exit strategy in one year.
How to choose a loyal person
Loyalty is not something you choose but largely instill. However, you can get off to a good start by picking a certain type of people. One way is to aim for those you have a previous relationship with as there is more security that way. It doesn’t mean they will be loyal but it’s a good starting point because you have, let’s say, the same kind of friends and network of people. A friend is less likely to screw you over.
However, the real stuff is leverage.
I know it sounds evil but that is the nature of the business. If you take someone who is unaccomplished but eager and make them, you have a lot of leverage. If you know a bit of personal information (like a tendency to gamble, cheat on a spouse, etc.) or anything you can use as leverage, you can trust that person because the leverage means that person now trusts you.
Apart from personal relationships, you can create financial leverage. If a person has something to lose by abandoning you, they likely won’t leave. For instance – if the setup you provide makes that person a top 3 in the field while currently being nowhere near the top 10, why would they abandon the ship? Employee stock options (ESOs) are also a good example of financial leverage as the core idea, where the advantages of leverage outweigh the disadvantages of the complexity of options.
Any leverage is welcome as it vastly improves the chances of a fruitful partnership.
One study showed that 13% of startups fail because of disharmony between partners and investors, with an additional 23% going down the drain because the team was not right. It just goes to show that you can have great people, the best in what they do and still fail because the interests of both sides weren’t aligned.
There is one very important notion here that every business founder should realize:
highly skillful and knowledgeable people comprise a distinct group that routinely gets offers (because they are the best in what they do). As such, they can’t be trusted to be loyal because you don’t/can’t pay them enough. When all is said and done, it’s your business, not theirs.
Naturally, there will be slight overlaps. You can hire a bonafide expert and have them along for the ride, as well as make someone great and eventually see them abandon you for the greener pastures. In both cases, the odds are slim and not correlating with the experiences I had.