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The PhatDeals Blog

April 21, 2009

Lessons from a Young Manager Part II: The Right Motivation

Hi folks.  Last time, we left off by touching on sharing a vision with the team, and getting buy-in.  In this post I’d like to explore further what getting buy-in means, and the different types of people I’ve encountered in my brief stint as the Co-Founder of our company.

Though the following notion may be cliché to many of you, I feel it’s worth repeating:  If you are in a startup for the money, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.  Google did not have an effective business model for about 4 years. (Incidentally, check out their official timeline.)  Larry and Sergey did not start it because they thought they’d be rich.  Rather, they just wanted to hack a cool search engine together.  They initially called it, “backrub”.  Only later did it occur to them that they had a business on their hands.  Oh, I must diverge on one more tangent:  This video of Sergey Brinn on “To Tell the Truth” always amused me.  So, in summary, please remember that while money is nice, expect your startup to have none for a very long time.  This will be in exchange for months, to years of your precious time and energy.  If that sounds fun, I cannot recommend anything more thrilling than to go for it; dive in head-first!

To return back to the meat of the topic of motivation- I was speaking with a good friend recently about the types of people in the workplace, especially startups. We came up with a classification for the three different types of people you’ll encounter:

The Race Horse

The Race Horse

The Race Horse

The Race Horse is determined, and hardworking.  They’ll run as fast as you can handle them.  This is the person you put in charge of doing deep-background on your competition before a trade show.  Or, point your race horse in the direction of potential sales leads, and watch in amazement as the orders come rolling through.  Most lead salespeople are racehorses.  What’s important when managing a racehorse is to understand their individual needs.  Point one in the right direction, and give intermediate cues to enable them to monitor their progress.   But don’t give direction, and they’ll be chomping at the bit and potentially bucking you off. I would say Ruben is our race horse.  He produces amazing work at lightning speed; all he needs is some direction, and he’s good to go.

The Bassett Hound

The Bassett Hound

The Bassett Hound

The Bassett Hound serves as the almost polar-opposite to the Race Horse.   Bassetts are not fast.  They don’t follow orders.  They’re independently-minded.  But, once they find a scent they go to the ends of the earth to track down their prey.  The Bassetts in your company do so as well.  They’ll produce work at half or one-quarter the pace of their peers, but the quality of their work is second to none.  And they really need little direction- just the scent of what you’re looking for- and they’ll get it done exactly as it should be, and more.  The biggest Bassett at PhatDeals is probably me.  It’s taken 1 1/2 years to get PhatDeals to where it is today, but I’ve helped foster the ideas generated by the team, and execute them at just the right times.  When I produce work, it is at times in smaller quantities than my partners,  but the quality of my work makes up for this in spades.

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Greyhound is a high-performer, and can work on their own.  Their sense of smell is not as good as a Bassett’s, but their work output is superb.  Once you show a greyhound where the rabbit is (share the vision of what their job is, and where it fits within the company at that time) they will go in the right direction without supervision until the rabbit must change direction, or becomes an entirely different animal.  Sean is pretty close to being a Greyhound.  His work output is superb once on track.  When he has his eye on the ball, per se, he can focus in a way that many of us cannot- I’ve seen Sean work on a spreadsheet for hours at a time, fine-tuning the details to an extent that I tire from even watching him work on it.  Sean is also very organized, a trait that is common with Grehounds.  It takes a well-put-together datebook and iCal to do his job well.

The Race-Bassett

Okay, so admittedly I’ve made this one up.  And of course the Grey-Bassett is next.  The Race-Bassett has tendencies towards both high outputs stemming from clear guidance, and high-quality work at a slower, yet deterimined pace.  They can see the big picture (Bassett) but can also produce work at a blistering pace when pushed.  It’s important when dealing with them to communicate the vision, and acknowledge the good work they’ve done.  Dan is our resident Race-Bassett.  His understanding of the world around enables him to think like a Basset, and his work ethic kicks in when things really need to get done.

The Grey-Bassett

The Grey-Bassett has the capability of getting on the scent, and once there can be most prolific with their work.  The trick is getting them over that hump to smell the scent of the rabbit, or see the rabbit.  Sometimes, they need to both see and smell the rabbit.  Jon is our Grey-Bassett.  It takes some effort to communicate with Jon, but when our visions line up he always comes through.  It’s been fun starting this company with Jon, and I’m always challenged by his questions and devil’s advocacy.

Some final thoughts:

Here’s a test for whether someone is suited for working with your startup:  Ask them how they would like to be compensated.  If one of the first answers is “such and such per hour”, they are not for you.  I actually had someone ask the question of how much they’d get paid, before even asking about how the company worked or what their role would be.  If, though, within their first several words they mention “Stock options” or “equity” or “partnership”, or even something along the lines of “the experience is what really matters”, then give them a shot.

With regard to forming a startup, if you must start with only two, the best two-person team I can think of is a combination of Bassett and Race Horse.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball.  Penn and Teller.  Steve Jobs and the Woz.  We’re fortunate enough to have a little of everything on our team, and I feel this has kept us afloat in the fickle waters of the sea of college startups.

Until next time, stay classy.

Aaron