Why One Investment Deal Broker Says Start-Ups Should Hire Generalists


Recruitment: Shutterstock

Sydney-born “Venture Hacker” Ashley Fontana has urged startups to recruit generalists with a “fear of path-dependency and a little bit of ADHD”.

Fontana works at AngelList San Francisco, which operates an online platform that matches startups with job seekers, investors and customers.

The site launched in 2010 and employs 12 people, all of whom have both business and coding expertise.

No one uses an email or calendar — besides the boss, who needs to communicate with external parties — and there are no internal meetings.

“The thing with generalists is that you can give a task to them and they can just go away and do it. They have full self-reliance,” Fontana said at SydStart today.

“it’s pretty easy to have a high bandwidth conversation with yourself,” he said, explaining that a team of generalists allowed AngelList to produce new products rapidly.

Fontana said top-tier engineering graduates and investment bankers had applied to join AngelList but generalists were hard to find. Conference attendees agreed.

“I get people coming through the door with blue-chip resumes but they don’t know how the internet works,” the former Macquarie banker and Topguest founder said.

On the other hand, “full-stack web developers are pretty common these days but finding full-stack web developers that understand our business is the challenge.”

“Investors are highly sophisticated customers,” he said.

Fontana’s advice to startups:

1. Hire generalists

2. Outsource anything that isn’t core to building your product

3. Only do things that will have make a large enough impact. “We do not make a product if the work cannot affect a certain number of transactions. I’m better off having a week of to reflect than doing low-leverage stuff.”

4. Automate tasks

5. Be aggressive and take risks. “No single person has to ask permission to change anything. If they break anything, they’ll just have to stay back late to fix it.”

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