How to Hire Like Kayak’s Paul English
What’s the difference between making a million or making a billion in revenue? According to Kayak’s Paul English, it’s all about recruiting.
Paul English might be Kayak’s co-founder and CTO, but make no mistake — his expertise and enthusiasm doesn’t stop at product development and engineering.
What’s his biggest passion? Building great teams.
“(My priority) is always team first, customer second, and profit third,” English told Larry Bohn of General Catalyst Partners in 2010. “I just take it really seriously — the commitment to just do whatever it takes to make that team strong.”
Throughout his career, English’s has placed a high emphasis on team building, and his approach has certainly paid off. In November of last year, Priceline acquired Kayak for $1.8 billion, and English — who continues to serve as Kayak’s part-time CTO — is now in the process of building a startup incubator with the goal of pairing founders with operational executives.
What can you take away from English’s team-first approach to growing a business?
Here are five lessons from Kayak’s “Chief Recruiting Officer” to help you assemble a team of all-stars:
1) Get Directly Involved in Recruiting (And Hire an Incredible Contract Recruiter You Trust)
As English writes in this post on his blog, for an entrepreneur to build an incredible team, he or she must love recruiting and hiring. That doesn’t mean that you have to commit all of your time to it. But English argues that unless you have a deep passion for building great teams (and can communicate that passion to everyone else in the business), hiring the best talent will never become a top priority.
Along those lines, English says a founder’s most important hire is often a contract recruiter who has a track record of building great teams and possesses a clear understanding of the type of people you want to attract. Ultimately, that can allow founders to seamlessly hand-off the recruiting process as the business grows and they have less time to dedicate to hiring.
2) Hire People, Not Skills
As English told Fortune Magazine’s Geoff Colvin last year, Kayak doesn’t write job descriptions for the open positions on its website. And there’s a very simple reason for that.
“We don’t look for specific skills,” English says. “I frequently create jobs for people. When I meet someone who’s incredibly talented, I’ll try to figure out their talents, their interests, and we try to figure out how we can use that at Kayak.”
3) Recruit Ferociously and Hire Quickly
At Kayak, hiring process aims to last no longer than one week. In fact, as English tells Colvin in the Fortune article, the joke at Kayak is often that if he boards a flight out of San Francisco, his colleagues ask him how many people he hired by the time the plane landed.
That kind of accelerated hiring process might be more aggressive than some expansion-stage founders can stomach, but English believes that you can’t wait for talent. If you find someone who can help your business, you have to act quickly or you may lose them to another opportunity.
4) Starting Out, Be Prepared to Move Mountains (or Your Company) for the Right People
Kayak’s headquarters aren’t exactly located in a tech hotbed (Concord, Mass.), but English says there’s a good reason for that. When he was trying to recruit Kayak’s first two engineers away from Intuit, he couldn’t promise them equal compensation, but he could offer something else: The chance to choose where Kayak would be headquartered. Those engineers ultimately settled on Concord and the rest is history.
The lesson, English says, is that in order to get the absolute best talent, you sometimes need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get them to say “yes.”
5) Look Outside of Your Industry for High Achievers
Despite being a travel website, English avoided the temptation to build his team with travel industry insiders early on. Instead, he looked for people who had been supremely successful wherever they’d been, because he was confident that he could take those people, put them on the right team, and help make them successful in a new industry. In other words, a track record of success superseded any sort of industry-specific expertise.
“I actually prefer to find engineers who have never worked in travel before because I think creative people are at their peak when they see a problem for the first time,” English said in an interview with Boston’s WGBH last year.
Can Recruiting Mean the Difference Between a Million and a Billion?
According to English, a commitment to — and passion for — recruiting is about more than simply developing a better company culture, or building a business that people want to work for.
It’s also about the bottom line.
“The difference between (recruiting) A-players and A+ players is the difference between a million in revenue or a billion in revenue,” English said in his interview with General Catalyst’s Bohn. “It’s really extraordinary how much just putting that little extra effort into recruiting and the dividends that can pay back to you.”
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Photo by: Andrew Smith