Ever since my Rocket Internet days, we have been approached by executives with shining CVs looking ‘for a change’ from the corporate world.

They typically have 10 – 20 years of corporate experience, smart, eloquent and more importantly, experienced, in sales, business development, operations and other disciplines.

Over the years, we have hired a lot of them. Many of them turned out to be brilliant (some of them are still working with us at Momentum Works now), but more did not last.

We have been reflecting about what went wrong, and here are a few signs that things will probably not work out.

  • Yes to everything you say

At a meeting, whenever you (as the boss or the founder) raise a point – the executive immediately says “Yes this is right!”, “I totally agree” or “I was about the raise the same point”. And this happens at every single meeting.

Sycophancy  for me is the greatest red flag, it not only sends the wrong information to the founder or CEO, but also poisons the whole company’s culture. It should not be tolerated at all in any startup.

Worse cases are some executives who not only praise everything you say, but also attacks everything their peers say – in order either to show off or play politics. The concerned executives should not be allowed to stay in the organisation.

  • “I do not want to be paid, I just want the startup experience” for full time

I have specifically had seven incidences of this, and none of them worked out.

The problem is, while this is a nice gesture, it sets a misalignment of interests. We do not know how much to ask of the person; and the person does not know how much to commit. Any miscommunication could easily be amplified, causing the end of the working relationship and sometimes hard feelings.

Since about 3 years ago, we stopped accepting such arrangements. We insist on paying – and setting the expectations clearly.

  • “This is too risky” or “I do not see any point doing this because nobody has ever done it”

It is good that someone can see the risks – in fact entrepreneurship is all about mitigating risks. However, the problem comes when every single action the team takes is too risky and the only result of this is a completely paralysed team.

Such negative “cannot-do” attitude is highly contagious.

  • “The coffee here sucks – I must brew my own coffee”

Fine, you can brew your coffee. While as a startup we can afford a good coffee machine, this really shows what your priorities are.

P.s. we have pretty good coffee at office.

  • “It is a waste of my time to do this”

We know that your time is best spent doing all the value adding services that you are specialised in. For instance if you are specialised in sales, it probably makes sense to have a structure to help you generate leads.

But for startups, what you should probably really do is figure out how to improve the process, and actually implement such improvements such that you can focus on high value stuff. In the meantime, just roll up your sleeves and bloody do it.

Of course, if you have to keep doing this, then there is a problem with the company’s priorities, and the founders are to blame.

  • “I will get back to you by end of the week” (for a five minute task)

By the same logic, for a one day long task, it will take months. But the time the startup would already be R.I.P.

Get it done, fast.

  • “I want work life balance and I do not want to check emails during weekends”

It should be the management’s responsibility to ensure that their subordinates do not have to check emails during weekends. However there are times urgent attention is needed to fix something – and dogmatically not working over the weekend really does not help.

In fact such expectations are normal in corporates, just ask anyone who has experienced a system go-live.

  • “This is not supposed to be my job scope”

In fact, when you are in a startup, helping the company fix problem IS part of your job scope.

The list can go on. The general principle here is that you need to be very aware of such signs, and make sure they do not contaminate the positive working vibe that you spent so much hard time building.

An experienced executive is not supposed be hand-held, no matter how much a leap he or she has made from her previous industry/role.

Very often, you could tell whether the person is a good fit in an interview – just have a casual chat to see what their attitude towards certain things is.

If you are still not sure, get your team to interview them separately and compare notes. Usually through this you will get some good insights about judging whether the person is a good fit or not.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].