Hiring: The Spark in the Eye

Arguably the most important task of an entrepreneur is to assemble a truly outstanding team. I am proud that I was able to bring many great teams together in the past. And I am grateful to work with so many outstanding people at Qype, at 9flats, and at avocadostore. I made many mistakes on the way. It is worth sharing some of my principles in hiring.

Hunt for potential, not for experience

Many people make the mistake of just looking at people‘s CV or likedin profile and look for the ones who‘ve done exactly what you need. I like people with experience. They can save you a lot of money because they don‘t need to experiment. But more important than where people have been is where they can go.

Hire for attitude

People who want to join us often bring rare and much sought after technical or marketing experience to the table. But we often failed with people who had the right skill, but the wrong attitude. I‘d rather have someone less experienced who will really find out how something can be done than an expert who tells me why it can‘t be done. At 9flats, we‘re looking for people with that spark in the eye.

Hire the best for all positions

„Hire the best person you can afford“ has been my mantra for a long time. Whenever I deviated and tried to make a shortcut, I invariably failed. Most people understand the concept of getting great people when hiring really „key“ employees like a CTO. But they fall short of the excellence principle in the „non-key“ areas like office management or accounting. The difference a truly great person makes to a simply average person is striking. In all areas.


Recently I have met an increasing number of extremely successful people with poor ethics. Some on the investments side, but also some who applied for a job. The minute I spot this, I just switch off. I have lost some great potential this way, but I like to think that I gained in the long run. I won‘t give away all my tests here, but one: someone who offers to bring his coworkers to join us, will be shown the door immediately. This is purely selfish. Anyone who brings their friends to join us with them, will take them to the next shop afterwards.

The weekend test

The most important question I ask myself about every person that works directly with me is the weekend test: Would I like to spend a weekend with her or him. If that thought becomes just too stressful, boring or otherwise unpleasant, I just pass.

Pass on opportunities

I‘ve passed on many great hiring opportunities. And I will never know for sure if I have missed some great people that way. But I do know that with most of the people where it didn‘t work out in the end  there was some hunch in the beginning. Something was not right. Someone was not exactly thrilled by the person. So my most important rule for hiring is: Don’t hire if something feels not right.


By the way, a link to our Entrepreneur Intern Program (unfortunately German only, will be updated)

Open positions with 9flats.com in Berlin or in Hamburg

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  1. Great post. Now we just need to know where you find those perfect employees. 🙂

  2. Hi Stephan,

    Great post! I’m just starting up a new web-based business here in Hamburg, and building up a team. So far I’ve found one. I could use 1 or 2 more team members. Thanks for the tip!

    By the way, the link to Entrepreneur Intern Program is broken (links to the wp-admin of your blog).


  3. That will be the subject of your next guest post on my blog, I hope!

  4. Thanks, Stephan! I think the paragraph about Ethics is worth an own article. We always leverage the “No Asshole Rule” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_No_Asshole_Rule)
    it provides also a few striking approaches and tests towards building not only excellence in terms of abilities, but also in terms of a civilized workplace.

  5. Great post. We must only find an repeatable way to measure potential and attitude for each candidate. 😉

  6. Thank you for this comment, Bjoern! I wanted to write this as a separate piece, but probably more from an investor angle 🙂

  7. Nice read. You just unlocked the wise guy badge and the leadership badge at the same time. The samwer bro’s are the sole owners of the dictatorship badge, which will not pay out in the long run. Good luck and keep going.

  8. Good points taken! But two questions came to my mind:

    1.) Do you rely on Headhunters / Recruiters to make a first selection – or do you prefer to attend the whole process yourself, so you can be sure to find the people that suite YOUR criteria?

    2.) How do you act when you realize after some month, that your initial decision was not the best? Do you act consistent and seperate from that employee in order not to stick with average workers? Or do you try to enhance the skills/suitability of that person to finally get a worker that is a better fit?

  9. In addition a somewhat opinionated article about hiring the best (IT) people for a job: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/GuerrillaInterviewing3.html

    Keep in mind that this article focuses on the technical skills and smartness of a person, than on the ethics.

  10. @Marc: 🙂
    1. How to find the people is another question that justifies a blog post. I use headhunters only rarely.
    2. We generally try to develop people. If there is a clear mismatch, than it may be better for both parties to seperate early.

  11. cool post!

  12. Hi Stephan

    Very good post and I can agree with all (apart the bit about not using headhunters much 😉

    I agree with Bjoern that the Ethics paragraph could and probably should be worked into a longer post. Perhaps we can co-create something.


  13. I find the ethics part the most interesting and challenging. I second you with assuming this will pay of in the long run, but question is if it ever will be measurable. Hence I decided for myself that it simply is my way of doing it – even if it includes taking the risk of losing some execution speed on the way. After all, this isn’t all about the money only. It’sa thin line though – and ethics are very subjective and non measurable

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