Matt Tillman | Crain's Silicon Valley

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

Matt Tillman

Background:  

Matt Tillman founded Haven Inc. in 2014 to bring automation to the shipping industry. The company launched Haven TMS, a trade technology platform for quoting and tracking shipments, in April 2017. Tillman also has experience in finance and advertising. 

The Mistake: 

The mistake I really don’t want to repeat is hiring the wrong type of person for a particular job — people who aren’t a fit for what you’re selling now and aren’t a fit for what you’re going to sell.

When you start a company, you’re responsible for finding great people, making sure that they have what they need to succeed and that they’re leveling up the entire company. You don’t really have the hiring process developed first thing, so you have to build all that infrastructure from scratch. You have to figure out the types of people you want to hire, what types of backgrounds you want them to have and what types of work you want them to do.

Candidates see that you raised money, and you get a ton of inbound on the recruiting side. You get really smart people from Harvard and MIT backgrounds, and they are all very interesting people. You want to work with them, but they might not all be right for the jobs you have.

Early on, our company thought we were going after a very different market, and that changed pretty quickly — from programmatic freight to more of a software-as-a-service path. Not every person [who applies for a job with your company] is capable of adapting to a big shift like that. You have to give everyone an opportunity, but you also have to make sure your recruiting process changes.

The right way to hire is to say your company is building something incredible, and it’s going to be a difficult place to get a job.

The Lesson:

Early on, you’re a little insecure as a company. Your company is very small, and you’re trying to find great talent, but what happens is you almost end up chasing candidates. That’s actually the incorrect way to go about hiring people.

The right way to hire is to say your company is building something incredible, we all believe in this, and it’s going to be a difficult place to get a job. You’re going to have to go through a recruiting process and then a hiring and training process and establish your responsibility as the owner of those processes. It has to be difficult because that’s setting the bar, and if you set that bar early, it lasts [as long as] the entire company.

The first 20 hires are critical. For each group, we formalized the criteria we hire against. On the sales side, for example, [a candidate] has to have had success selling software similar to ours. There are really set criteria across all these different roles. Doing that made sure everyone was on the same page about each hire.

You have to have managers who pay attention to the hiring process because if you don’t have the right people, it’s all for naught.

Follow Haven on Twitter at @havenmx.

Photo courtesy of Haven Inc.

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Do you have a good story you’d like to share or know someone we should feature? Email hrichardson@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain.