Divya Gugnani | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Divya Gugnani

Background:  

Wander Beauty is a cosmetics company that sells multi-tasking and travel-friendly makeup. All its product are made from enhanced formulas that are cruelty-free. 

The Mistake:  

When I actually started my last company, Send the Trend, the first technician I hired was a very senior guy and he had a lot of experience. He had a full team behind him, and we scoped out a big project for him to build our first web platform and build this really interesting, personalized shopping algorithm. And he told me he could do it.  

Months and months went by and all the time I would ask about progress and he’d say, “It’s being worked on. It’s being worked on,” and he kept collecting money from me and he kept coming into the office, but I never saw product work.  

I then took a chance on a guy who was much younger, less experienced, didn’t have all those corporate jobs that this other person did, but he told me, “I understand the vision of what you’re trying to build. I’ve never built it before, I don’t know how to do it, but I’m pretty convinced that if I sat here and spent a lot of time on it, I could figure it out.”  

He was the single best person I’ve ever hired in my career.  

If you hire people who are only specifically good at one job, as the job keeps changing they can’t keep up with you.  

The Lesson:  

At the end of the day, hiring decisions are based on two things—attitude and aptitude. So you don’t necessarily need to hire people from the best school. You can hire someone from any college, it doesn’t matter where they went, if they have raw intelligence, they’re actually going to do better in a startup.

When it comes to the Internet or developers or things like that, people really look for, “Has this developer ever built this before? Can they build this very specialized thing for me?” The reality is that someone who’s creative and smart can figure out how to do it. If you hire people who are only specifically good at one job, as the job keeps changing they can’t keep up with you.  

Because the company is constantly growing and the roles keep changing all the time, the nature of a startup is that your job changes every two or three months. You need someone who’s ready to throw out the garbage one day but ready to run a presentation to a big multi-national company the next day. In the early stages of a business, everybody wears 20 hats.  

The other thing I think is super important, which relates to the social part, is attitude. If you hire fewer people but you hire people with a can-do attitude, who really are ready to get into the weeds, be granular, help plan things, help carry boxes—I know it sounds so silly but it goes a long way because they set the culture and the tone for everyone at the company.

If the senior level hires are ready to get their fingers dirty and are ready to make the birthday cake for someone’s birthday, or throw out the garbage after a team party, or do those kind of things—that culture is sent through the rest of the business. 

Follow Divya Gugnani on Twitter at @dgugnani

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