Mentors – How to learn tough lessons fast

Ben Nunez – Mentors – How to learn tough lessons fast.

Ok so very early on in my career I had a mentor. I was probably 23 years old, her name was Regina Dugan she was the head of DARPA. She told me that we need to look at all the people, in our company at the time we had probably 50 or 60 people, and determine if we have any poison in the company. We were concern about culture, we were concern about how fast we were moving or lack of it and her first question was about the people on the team, our core management team and whether there was anybody who was a poison. And by poison she meant someone who had the potential to poison others and to spread throughout your organization like a disease. I call attention to one or two people who I thought might be that and base on some actions that they had taken and she immediately just said fire them.

There is no working through these problems for people who are poisoned. You have to eradicate it as fast as possible or it will spread throughout your organization and bring it down. And it was something that I’ve learned very early on to sort of hire slow and fire fast. The minute you know somebody is a poison or isn’t going to work out don’t try to take the time, especially at the early stages of the company, to try to fix it because chances are you’re not going to be able to fix it and you’re going to end up wasting a bunch of time and their poison may spread throughout your organization.

When we started Bird Box, we were trying to move as fast as we possibly could, we were hiring people, we have raised money, we were now cannibal to investors and had to make progress and when we were looking for engineers, we hired one in particular, who is a very talented engineer, but might not have been the best cultural fit; Wasn’t the best member of our team. We needed somebody so we pulled the trigger although we had doubts early on at the beginning before we hired them; we hired him anyways and as it turned out, sure enough within a couple months we realize that it was bad.

We had to move very quickly and not try to, although we were right in the middle of all our software development and everything was the worst possible time to have to fire somebody, but it was the best thing we possibly could have done because you just have to make that decision quickly and eradicate the poison.

So  we did that and it was a struggle and it set us back probably many months but in the end I think we were a better company for it.