Words of wisdom from Bonobos: don’t hire for experience

Andy Dunn, founder and CEO of Bonobos is one of the most thoughtful startup CEOs out there. He writes thoughtfully and honestly about his experiences building Bonobos into a successful clothing business and draws out the lessons that apply to startups generally.

In a recent interview with Business of Fashion he said this about hiring:

When hiring, it is tempting to employ someone who has done it before. You actually don’t want that person. You want someone who is about to do it. After all, if they’ve done it before, why would they do it again? Either they’re not ambitious, not growth-oriented, or weren’t that good in their previous role. No matter which it is, you don’t want them. This is one way to screw up your culture — experience-based hiring leads to bringing in those who have the right credentials, but not the right fire in their soul.

He’s totally on the money here. Hiring for experience, sometimes termed as a ‘great CV’ is one of the most common mistakes I see startups make, most often shortly after they’ve raised a big round. Generally speaking it’s best to hire hungry, high potential people with less experience and for less money and take the chance that they don’t step up, than to hire expensive experienced people with the risk that their experience doesn’t translate into high performance in a startup environment.

All that said, it’s hugely helpful if within the team there is experience both of the sector and of business generally, and bolstering levels of experience within the team overall can be a good reason to make an exception to the rule above.

  • Malcolm Teas

    Well. This depends on the position and what I’m looking for from the person. If I am hiring for a tech position, I want someone who can demonstrably actually create and deliver a product. Not someone who *thinks* that they can do it. I don’t want to have to train my primary engineers about effective software or hardware development practices, or how to work in a team. That’s what we do with junior people or interns. Some other fields and positions in a startup may have easier learning curves so YMMV.

  • Hi Malcolm – the point I was trying to make is that at the margin it’s often better to err on the side of potential rather than experience.