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Things we learned starting FutureHouse #1: You can hire people who know more than you do*.

We launched FutureHouse in September. Prior to that, I was an academic. In academia, you are a teacher, and so you are always hiring people who are less accomplished than you are. You hire purely on the basis of potential. You hire many people to do the same job (i.e., to be researchers, even if they are doing different projects). Many of your hires don’t work out, but that’s fine. It’s a portfolio strategy.

My instinct when we started FutureHouse was to do the same thing, hire on potential, find someone who I thought could probably do the job I needed to do, and then bring them on and let them do it. It turns out, that doesn’t work so well. Startups are not portfolios, at least not usually. If you hire someone and they can’t do the job, the startup will grind to a halt. You can’t hire 4 other people to do the same job.

The flip side, though, is that when you start a startup you have the ability to hire people who already know how to do the job. Instead of asking yourself, “do I think this person could do the job,” you can ask, “has this person done the job before?” and “is this the best person in the world for this job?”

Not that potential isn’t important. You should identify the jobs where you can tolerate high variance, and hire for potential on those jobs, because hiring for potential is the best way to find diamonds in the rough. But for jobs where failure is not an option, don’t risk it.

* One important caveat, which adds the asterisk: it’s true that you can hire people who know more than you know, but hiring well is very hard when you don’t know how to do the job yourself. In those cases, find a friend who knows, and who is discriminating about talent. Or, be ready to hire fast and fire fast. More about hiring strategies coming in Things I Learned 2…

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When people ask me what FutureHouse is doing, I tell them, FutureHouse is automating discovery. Scaling up biology research. Building AGI for science. Changing the way science is done. And they say, "


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