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Engineers at Commit

Why you should hire engineers who aren’t mission-driven

July 15, 2021 in Founders

I talk to dozens of startup founders a week, and each conversation is focused on what they look for in early engineering hires. The most common refrain I hear is that they’re looking for “mission-driven” hires.

As a firm believer in first principles thinking, I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself why being mission-driven is so important to founders. I speak with dozens of engineers each week, and a company’s mission rarely comes up as the main reason why they’ve chosen to join a startup (or what’s pulling them towards a new startup). Personally, I don’t consider myself to be predominately motivated by belief in a company’s mission.

Founders are mission-driven. They wouldn’t attach themselves to a problem for 10+ years without a powerful mission to pursue. So their logic often follows: I will pursue success against all odds because I care immensely about this mission. To find other people who will join me in my cause at the same intensity, I must find people who are similarly mission-driven.

I think this logic is faulty. What founders actually want are relentless hires — people who are disproportionately motivated to try to make something that has terrible odds become successful.

This disproportionate motivation can come from multiple sources:

  • A belief in the founders, the team or the tech lead and a desire to learn from (and please) them
  • The desire to solve hard technical problems and a belief that the startup will give them the opportunity to work on the hardest, most interesting technical problems
  • Respect for shipping well-designed, frictionless, joyful products (i.e., building for butter)
  • Cultural alignment, such that the employee feels empowered, supported and energized by and accountable to their coworkers
  • An innate competitive spirit and/or a “chip on their shoulder” that drives them to outpace other people’s expectations
  • And yes, a strong belief in the company’s mission

Founders would be well-served to focus on whether the potential hire has a strong source of motivation, rather than whether they share the founder’s source of motivation — in other words, whether they’re mission-driven. 

Thank you to Sam Blackman (co-founder and CTO, Nuvocargo) and Simon Stanlake (ex-CTO, Hootsuite and ex-SVP Engineering, Procurify) for being thought partners as I worked to articulate this idea.