Like so many other young Americans, I graduated college with a diploma, a few fond memories and no idea what to do with the rest of my life. Some of my friends headed down to New York, hoping for a lucrative job in finance. Others trekked up to Silicon Valley, eager to join the right company at the right moment of growth. I headed in a different direction—right to my father's basement in my hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut.
I was following a bit of advice that's too often ignored, urging the youthful and the clueless to do what they love and follow their passion. Mine has always been tinkering: From a very young age, I loved nothing more than taking toys and gadgets apart, studying how they worked and putting them back together again. It was only natural, then, that I would decide to start a company that made something—in my case, hardware and software that would help small businesses like my dad's keep their precious data always backed up, always secure and always available.
It wasn't the most glamorous idea for a startup—some of my friends were finding gigs in the music and travel industries, which are much more illustrious—but I felt it was absolutely necessary if the information economy were to continue and grow. And besides, my father's basement was free.
Once I'd set up shop, I had to face my first real challenge as a budding entrepreneur, namely knowing who to hire. My first employee was a no-brainer: He'd shared my room for most of our lives, and, being my brother, I trusted him and knew he shared my enthusiasm and my dreams.
The following employees, however, were a bit trickier to recruit. As my company grew, I needed new people on the team, and needed to decide how to sift through all those impressive resumes and find the person who was absolutely right for the job. I'm happy to report that my answer then is the same as it is now that the company has more than 600 employees—reward passion above all. Skills can be taught, and formal education is not necessarily a guarantee for superior intelligence. But passion—that thing that drives you to think up new ways to make your work more challenging and more effective, that voice in the back of your head that's always looking for new things to invent and improve, that commitment to your colleagues that goes far beyond normal working hours—that's precious stuff, and it can't be faked. If you don't feel it buzzing about when you're talking to a prospective hire, don't bother.
Which doesn't mean, however, that all passionate people were created equal. Some, I've come to realize, are persistent in a quiet and dogged way, while others show their dedication proudly and loudly. At a startup, where teams are small and job descriptions often fuzzy and general, these differences don't matter as much. But as a company grows up, jobs grow big and responsibilities mount up, so it's a very good idea to give each employee precisely what he or she needs to succeed.
At Datto, we're addressing this challenge by obeying the old Greek teaching: Know thyself. Our sales team, for example, is divided into two groups, the hunters and the farmers. The hunters are those folks who enjoy nothing more than a sales call, who feel an almost physical rush every time they bring on a new client. The farmers, on the other hand, are the long-term-relationship people whose pleasure and skill lies in talking to clients daily and making sure they're happy. The two groups couldn't be more different, and yet both are essential to our long-term success. Rather than punishing a farmer for not being a good enough hunter, say, we realize that talent and passion come in many shapes and sizes and try to reward them all.
And reward them you should. As the company continued to grow, I found myself paying more and more attention to keeping that startup vibe, that feeling that everything's possible and that the best is yet to come, alive and well. Which, in a biggish company, may call for drastic measures; every morning as I walk into my office, I throw my keys on my desk, and every employee knows he or she can walk in any time and take my car for a spin. Which, really, means that they know that I trust them and am here for them, just as I would be if there were still only a handful of us tucked away in a small and airless basement.
We've come a long way from these basement days, and though my decision to become an entrepreneur and start my own company proved blessed, I'm still acutely aware that every day offers a new lesson in how to manage and grow a company. Which is why I have one last piece of advice to offer to anyone starting out—learn. Always, and from everyone. Your engineers will teach you how to make your product better, your executives how to run your team more efficiently and your mentors how to know what you don't know. They're the ones who helped the company grow from basement to billions, and I will forever be grateful to every single one.