Showing up

Mark Twain famously quipped that “80 percent of life is showing up.” Running a startup, I’d say it’s more like 90 percent. For example, I frequently hear from founders how it’s hard to recruit programmers. It is indeed hard. But great programmers are out there, and can be found in places where other people simply aren’t showing up.

Back in 2005 when I was starting SiteAdvisor with Tom Pinckney (one of my cofounders at my last two startups and non-graduate of high school) we were trying to recruit great programmers. At the time, startups were certainly not the hot thing, especially on the East Coast. We were based in Boston so decided to spend time at MIT where we figured there must be smart programmers. We went to places like the Media Lab and basically just sat ourselves down at lunch counters and awkwardly introduced ourselves: “Hi, my name is Chris Dixon and this is Tom Pinckney and we are starting a company and would love to talk to you about it.” Most students ignored us or thought we were annoying. I remember one student staring at us quizzically saying “startups still exist?” Most of our trips were fruitless. At one point after a failed trip we were on the Redline back to our office in downtown Boston and joked, depressingly, that we felt so out of place that people looked at us like time travelers from the dot-com bubble.

Our first breakthough came after a series of trips when a particularly talented programmer/designer named Hugo Liu re-approached us and said something like “hey, actually I thought about it and your idea doesn’t suck.” Then his friend David Gatenby talked to about joining us. We eventually recruited Hugo and David along with a brilliant undergraduate Matt Gattis. We had finally broken through. Matt and Hugo now work with us at Hunch along with some of their friends from MIT they brought along.

People who say recruiting is easy are probably recruiting bad people. People who say recruiting is hard are right. People who say it is impossible just aren’t showing up enough.

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