Experience is overrated!

4:19 AM Suvir Sujan 1 Comments

In a recent board meeting of an early stage internet startup, one of the senior executives asked me "Should I hire a Senior Sales Head who has experience in the Industry or should I hire someone who maybe good with managing a sales organisation but in a different industry?". My immediate answer was "Experience is Overrated!".

Let me explain.

What is required from a Sales Head in an early stage startup is someone who can roll up their sleeves and do the initial selling to the customers, someone who understands the product roadmap well and can dynamically adjust the product positioning and pricing based on market needs, can build a motivated team, can design and implement processes, operating metrics, etc.   Given the nascency of the internet in India,  there are few companies on the internet that have scaled where one can find Sales Heads with the right mindset and experience in a fast growing  innovative and dynamic setting . And many times in the offline world, the experience is a lot more structured where there is less "out of the box" entrepreneurial leadership thinking.  And often times, an experienced hire can come with unwanted baggage from an industry or a company that then requires "unlearning".  Or the hire can come with strong views of how to approach things which may or may not work in the context of what the startup is looking for or may bring on board a team that may have performed well in a different context or environment (may still be the same industry but sometimes online and offline skills in the same industry can be very different) but may not be able to adjust to the new environment.

So unless there is deep domain that is absolutely required (in some fields like pharma, medicine, etc, this maybe required), the core functional skills and mindset of the person is more important than the experience. Obviously if the core skills check out in a candidate that also happens to have the experience, it is an added bonus.


True. Experience matters more when there is complexity in the organization, like working through multiple layers of hierarchy, handling very wide range of products, highly demanding customers in an overheated market etc. But for a start-up or for building a market for new products, it is fruitful to have more people who can make their hands dirty, learn and build experience.