Avoiding the Temptation to Hire Badly

It’s an interesting time in robotics in Pittsburgh. With Uber moving into the neighborhood, some of hype and bubble-making machinery of silicon valley is moving into the ‘Burgh, which has traditionally done a great job of balancing cutting edge advanced technology development with practical applications. This has an impact on many business areas, especially recruiting and retention of the best employees.

Neya has been extremely fortunate; we have always been able to attract extremely talented employees who not only push the company forward in technology, but also embody the exact culture I strive to create. This has led to us being on the 2014 INC 5000 list, and on being named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative companies in robotics.

We are now facing a threat–but like all threats, this one comes with a significant opportunity. Neya is continuing to grow at an organic pace that most bootstrapped companies would find extremely healthy. But there is pressure to grow faster, to take advantage of the current “gold rush” in robotics and ride the wave/bubble.

I know we are not the only robotics company faced with this right now. What we are doing, and my advice to everyone else out there in the same situation: work hard to grow fast and take advantage of opportunities, but don’t give up what has made you successful in the first place. For most of you, like us, this means your employees.

There’s an obvious temptation to add bodies just to increase headcount, show you are scaling, and to capture immediate opportunities. In the past, I’ve told customers “no” when I thought we couldn’t handle a request because of scheduling or skill set issues. Those companies are still our loyal customers because we didn’t take advantage of them to make a quick sale.

Neya will continue to hire the best talent. We can’t afford to do anything else. Our customers are relying on that, and my vision for the company and its growth path also rely on that. We will keep making sure that people we hire not only fit our culture of transparency, camaraderie, and values, but also have skill sets and capabilities that are required for us to successfully continue to develop some of the best technology in the world for outdoor navigation and multi-robot command and control.

This means that there are times we will say “no” to potential candidates who may not be the right fit, even though there is a lot of temptation to bring them on board and hope for the best. There’s a lot of wisdom in “hire fast and fire fast,” especially for organizations that have to scale quickly using other people’s money. I’d rather get the “hire” part right and avoid the “fire” part altogether, out of respect for our candidates who would deal with the trauma, our employees who would have to pick up the slack, and our customers who would be absorbing risk that they shouldn’t have to.

This is a great time to be in robotics. While some folks may claim we are in a bubble–and while there may be some truth to that–a lot of good things will come to our industry from this. Those of us who have been in robotics for the past 15-20 years are finally going to see the fruition of a lot of activity that has been building up for a long time.

But stay the course. As a CEO/Founder, you need to keep your companies healthy, realize that your successes are due to your employees, do well by your customers, and don’t fall for the fallacy of “growth at all costs”.

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About the Author

Parag Batavia

Parag Batavia is the founder and president of Neya Systems, LLC. He started Neya in 2009, in order to further robotics R&D efforts, and transition them to commercial and DoD product areas. Parag has a Ph.D. in Robotics from CMU, and an MBA from Drexel. He is married, with two beautiful little girls, and is slowly trying to get back in shape now that he's hit the big 40.