Sonny Vu is the founder of the award-winning Misfit Wearables, who design highly wearable computing products. In addition, he is the founder and former CEO of AgaMatrix, makers of the world’s first iPhone-connected hardware medical device.
Sonny’s Paper Napkin Wisdom is very to-the-point: “Only work with people you like.” But is it realistic? When Sonny first heard this insight from former CEO of Apple and Pepsi, John Sculley, he liked the sound of it but did not think it was realistic for people like him: Entrepreneurs, young people, and those early in their careers. It was not until he began to reflect back on his own experiences that he started to realize how applicable “Only work with people you like” is at all levels.[Tweet “Only work with people you like.”]
It may seem like entrepreneurs, especially at the start-up level, have to work with the cards they are dealt but Sonny argues that, precisely because we are entrepreneurs, that is untrue. We always have the choice. “When we step back and test our assumptions, another path always seems to light up,” he says.[Tweet “When we step back and test our assumptions, another path always seems to light up.”]
That is not to say that the application of this philosophy will always be easy, though. Sonny notes that first impressions can be misleading and, even if we hire from our gut, we may end up with someone on our team who does not align with our core values. In those instances, Sonny relies on the advice of former GE chairman and CEO, Jack Welch. Welch promotes actively seeking out and eliminating those who do not align. For him, it is better to invest in a person who aligns with our values but is not delivering numbers than a person who is delivering numbers but whom we do not like. The person who aligns can hopefully be trained to improve their performance, whereas keeping the unaligned around is likely to damage our company culture. Others will see that the unaligned is high-performing and assume that their behavior is okay. We do not want to waste our leadership energies undoing this kind of damage.
Sonny cites the experiences he had with his three start-ups as illustrations of how different hiring strategies can affect company culture. With his first company, he hired a lot of people with high IQs; however, their egos led to a great deal of social and communication issues. With his second company, he hired people with experience; yet, Sonny is quick to note the difference between experience and wisdom. There can be a correlation between the two – just like there can be a correlation between a high IQ and relevant skills – but not always. Sometimes, those with a lot of experience can be close-minded, which is not helpful when a start-up is trying to shake up assumptions.
It is only with his current company that Sonny began to apply the “Only work with people you like” philosophy and he praises the radical change. He stresses that it is especially important to surround ourselves with people we like early on, as the very survival of our company may depend on it. Lack of alignment can pull a team apart or, worse yet, have people actively working to undermine each other. On the other hand, Sonny insists, “If you are up against a fast, agile, hard-working, highly functional team that likes each other, that trusts each other to watch each other’s back, you better watch out, man, because that’s a force to be reckoned with!”[Tweet “If you are up against a fast, agile, hard-working, highly functional team that likes each other, that trusts each other to watch each other’s back, you better watch out, man, because that’s a force to be reckoned with!”]
Listen to the conversation with Sonny here: