Employing entrepreneurs — yes or no?

By Guest Author | #estonianmafia | October 20, 2015

Image is courtesy of Latitude59

When your startup is growing you have to often decide on employing entrepreneurs. It’s a tough call – almost always.

Would you hire an entrepreneur thinking they could prefer to make something on their own? Or could they actually create new opportunities and markets for your startup? By definition, an entrepreneur is someone “who perceives a new business opportunity and often exhibits
CoFounder Magazine, dedicated to the Northern European startup scene, recently asked some successful founders, cofounders and friends of the Estonian startup ecosystem about their thoughts on employing entrepreneurs in their businesses.

Entrepreneurs Create Value

So why might hire of an entrepreneur cause sleepless nights? Founder of Finnish gaming company Boomlagoon, Antti Sten, sums it up well:

I suppose one reaction to this question would be to assume entrepreneurs will never be happy with a “normal job” while the other would be to think that an entrepreneur would have so much experience on things that can’t be taught, that they would be a valuable asset. Both are valid points to consider, but it’s not that black and white.

So how do our founders decide? Rain Rannu, Founder of Fortumo mobile payments service, believes that hiring an entrepreneur can kickstart business as you’re hiring someone who can create new products, open new markets or additional value from scratch:

It may sound counterintuitive, but in fact, in a lot of cases, I prefer to employ entrepreneurs. In every company, two kinds of people are needed – the ones who are good at managing existing business and the ones who are able to create new things.

While entrepreneurs are not necessarily great for managing day-to-day activities, it is nearly impossible to launch a new product or business line without an entrepreneur driving it!

Markus Villig from Taxify agrees that hiring entrepreneurs can help drive the business forward, as long as you embrace and encourage their independence:

Entrepreneurs are typically independent and not specialists, so they don’t fit into regular organisations for more than a few months. If you are launching a new product where the manager has a lot of freedom, then someone with an entrepreneurial drive is the best bet.

Jevgeni Kabanov, CEO of Zeroturnaround, says that he’s “hired clever folk and let them do their best. Success ensued. Eventually.” And among those clever folk were there some entrepreneurs? You bet.

Anything in product management or product marketing requires entrepreneurial thinking — being able to understand markets, identify opportunities and bring people together to pursue them.

Certainly anyone who had experience creating and/or running the business brings along some very valuable experience.

Entrepreneurs Understand the Difficult Decisions

Sten Tamkivi, cofounder of Teleport, has made a business of helping people move around the world to find rewarding work in a place where they can make more, spend less and live happier. Of the first 11 employees at Teleport, over half had founded companies themselves and had direct experience in building products from scratch. For Tamkivi, this meant that in addition showing their own drive, they have already walked in his shoes:

No matter if they succeeded or failed before, I know they have a strong internal drive and can self-motivate, but have a lot of humility about how hard it is to do what we do.

Entrepreneurs know how to operate with limited resources and make tough prioritisation choices.

And even if former founders are in an employee role now, I know that they still have a lot of empathy for some of the hard decisions I need to make as a CEO. It is much easier to have frank conversations on some complex topics.

Employing Entrepreneurs Means Hiring Partners, Not Employees

Kristjan Tamm’s Rentmarket is currently riding high at 170% of target funding achieved through Fundwise. On hiring an entrepreneur, he says:

Hiring an entrepreneur is actually hiring another co-founder, no matter what stage your company is at. Keep this in mind, even when you both try to hide it. An entrepreneur will always be an entrepreneur, but we should embrace that and not be afraid.

Jüri Kaljundi, cofounder of an impressive array of enterprises, including most recently team communication and productivity platform Weekdone and the events and coworking space for entrepreneurs Garage 48, says he aims to hire people who are ‘one-man startups in themselves’:

Each of our eight team members is like a mini-entrepreneur in that sense. Be it design, marketing or sales, they all must decide like a founder what are the things that might give the best results, then experiment daily and find things that work.

That is very similar to entrepreneurs: having a laser-like focus of doing a few things well. Each of our employees must do that daily as well. Because of that: yes, hiring entrepreneurs is always a great idea. They just get things done on their own.

Jakob Saks, cofounder of several companies – including dirt bike product manufacturer Rabaconda and Tallinn restaurants Foody Allen and Neikid – observes that working with entrepreneurs is a long-term relationship, but it needs to evolve and grow over time:

Entrepreneurs like to build stuff for themselves. You work together with an entrepreneur as partners. If you complement each other, then even though they have a tendency to leave faster than other employees who might be looking for salary safety, entrepreneurs can be life-long business partners.

It’s not just about this short term working arrangement, but about future ventures, partnerships and spin-offs.

Of course, it’s not as simple as ‘hire more entrepreneurs’. Henri Laupmaa of funding platforms Fundwise and Hooandja says:

“I would hire an entrepreneur if the person is the right type for the organisation. It is very hard to say anything about people just saying they are entrepreneurial, there are lots of characteristics one has to consider beside this.”

Which brings us neatly back to Antti Sten of Boomlagoon:

I think entrepreneurialism is merit just like any other. Maybe you have three doctorate degrees, maybe you’ve been in the same company for 20 years, maybe you’ve been part of a company that went bankrupt, maybe you’ve made millions from your last company. All these are things that can be seen as “worrying” or “positive merits”, depending on what kind of assumptions you make.

But instead of making assumptions, ask them. So yes, I would hire an entrepreneur. Not just because they are one, but if that merit combined with their other merits and personality is exactly what we’re looking for.

To hear more from the founders, co-founders and friends of the startup scene in Estonia and Northern Europe, subscribe to CoFounder magazine.