All I know about Product Startup Recruitment…I learned from the movie Moneyball!

Today, I was watching Moneyball, the movie for the third or fourth time! Every one of those scenes and dialogues was a lesson in recruitment that every product startup could use! I have used them and they have worked for me in fantastic ways! What better way to learn lessons in startup recruitment than watch a highly enjoyable movie with fantastic actors like Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill!


Having lived in Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, on the East Bay, having seen some of those Oakland Ace home games myself in person,  and having followed the A’s improbable victories in the media with my mouth open in astonishment, it could not get any more real and personal!

The movie starts out with the New York Yankees having a budget of $120M for player salaries and Oakland Aces having a budget of $40M. And the Yankees are stealing the best players the Oakland As and other teams too!

Sounds familiar? Competing with larger companies with deeper pockets for your employees?

So how do you compete and win? That’s the premise we start with.

Billy Beane: Aaahhh! The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’re being gutted, organ donors for the rich. Boston has taken our kidneys, Yankees takin’ our heart and you guys are sittin’ around talkin’ the same old good boy nonsense, like we’re selling deeds. Like we’re looking for Fabio. We got to think differently.

Let’s start with that! As a product start up company when you are ramping up, you are not a rich team, you are not a poor team, fifty feet of crap, and you are lower than that, given the lack of resources, especially if you are  bootstrapping! You may have star technical co-founders but you may need a larger team. Everybody cannot be a chief.  You need foot soldiers! You need to think differently!

Peter Brand: It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them.

So goes a quote early on in the movie!

People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality.  Top tier schools have all been picked clean. Look for overlooked people. Look for that unusual project in their resume. Ask the candidates about their passions and hobbies. You may be surprised with those gems that others overlooked. Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools  will have those people who did not make it to a top tier school for whatever reason. Their parents may have been sick during their high school final year. They may not have shown enough interest at that time to make good  enough grades in their high school year to get into a top school. They will be so grateful that you have confidence in them and are giving them another chance!

This does not mean you lower standards regarding technical competencies and knowledge. Test and interview for those as you would anybody. Look for those unusual people that are good but your mind rejects unconsciously because of age, appearance or personality!

How could the A’s  keep winning games against bigger and well funded competitors with a team made up of rejects and undervalued players? The key word here is undervalued!

Peter Brand: Billy, this is Chad Bradford. He’s a relief pitcher. He is one of the most undervalued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big leagues cares about him because he looks funny. This guy could be not just the best pitcher in our bullpen, but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball. This guy should cost $3 million a year. We can get him for $237,000.

Look for those Resumes that look like people who throw funny! Extraordinary interests in a variety of tools, languages and approaches. You want a start-up team that has breadth and depth. That candidate who gets so dogmatic about Java or Objective C or Ruby on Rails and thinks that everybody else is stupid to think of any other alternative is a problem waiting to happen! It’s a person who has not learned the difference between one tool and a toolbox full of tools. You need a carpenter who knows when to use exactly the right tool, not an operator of a single tool!

Peter Brand: Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. 

Figure out what you need as outcomes from the team members, not the function. You don’t need programmers, you need products that work. You don’t need Customer Service representatives. You need satisfied customers. You don’t need s sales team with a Director of Sales. You need Sales! Focus on how they have achieved these things in their past life. Look beyond the resume. Talk to them!

Finally, don’t second guess yourself! Explain the mission of the start up  and ask the question – “Do you believe in this thing or not?”

Yes. Watch the movie Moneyball if you want to know how to do recruitment for your product startup company!