At some point, every founder who wants to achieve escape velocity with their tech startup realizes that they have to learn a whole new skill set: how to find and hire the people who will help you make your vision a reality. While there are no shortcuts to compiling an awesome team, I want to share some insights I’ve gained in building the polySpectra team — and share a bit about how this group of people complements each other’s skills and experience to help make good on polySpectra’s mission.
Why You Shouldn’t Hire Yourself
When I was making my first hire at polySpectra, I narrowed it down to two candidates. One had a very similar background to mine, in organometallics and polymer chemistry. This candidate was highly qualified for the position, in the sense that they were scientifically prepared for the types of problems we would be facing. The second candidate had a much less relevant scientific background, but she had clearly demonstrated a strength for project management and operational execution.
I chose the second candidate. My reasoning was simply this: on a team of two, I would rather have someone who complements my skill set than someone who matches it. I can’t rerun the simulation to see if I was right or not, but I can tell you that having a very organized, type-A person to get it done and make up for my scatterbrain tendencies was incredibly useful to building our organization. While I am really good at strategizing, brainstorming and planning, I am not the best at executing. Know thyself. Then hire to complement.
One of our founding values is diversity, and this is an example of exactly why. Think twice about hiring yourself.
Meet the Team Bringing polySpectra’s Vision to Life
Four years ago, polySpectra was just me. Three years ago, the team jumped to four. Two years ago, we hired three more people, and this core of seven has been together since then. Our mantra at polySpectra is “Make it real.” Our team is small, but that means everyone has a direct impact on our mission to help designers, inventors and engineers make their ideas real.
I asked everybody to answer a few questions about who they are and how they’re helping polySpectra make it real by turning polymer 3D printing into a bona fide production additive manufacturing tool. Without further ado, meet the team.
Name: Raymond Weitekamp
Title: Founder and CEO
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: As founder, my job is to relentlessly innovate on ways to leverage creative chemistry to solve global manufacturing challenges. As CEO, my job is to find awesome people to work with — I am in charge of building our world-class team and developing the strong partner relationships that enable us to co-create advanced manufacturing solutions with our customers.
Superpower: Defusing uncomfortable situations with humor. (I would like to note that this superpower becomes a superweakness when inappropriately applied. As my kindergarten teacher warned me, “This isn’t clown school.”)
Unofficial role on the team: Mess Maker
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
Favorite cocktail: Anything with mescal
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: For the last four years I have completely switched to barefoot/minimal shoes (Vivobarefoot or Vibram).
Name: Samuel Bozek
Title: Product Chemist
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: By getting settings and properties for new materials quickly to allow for fast iteration.
Superpower: Superspeed, when it’s needed.
Unofficial role on the team: Data Guy
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: Learning Python by David Ascher and Mark Lutz
Favorite cocktail: Negroni
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: I really enjoy cycling and printing bike parts/accessories with polySpectra materials.
Name: Michele Guide
Title: Director of Product Development
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: I make sure that breakthrough technologies mature into real, reliable, valuable products.
Unofficial role on the team: Chaos Wrangler
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Favorite cocktail: The Boulevardier
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: I have an ongoing artistic series on the periodic table of elements. Each element is on its own panel and is depicted in media that relates, literally or abstractly, to the element.
Name: Matt Wilson Plasek
Title: Director of Business Development
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: Better additive materials can unlock significant shifts in how things are done, from cutting supply chain costs and timelines to lightweighting transportation for energy efficiency. Although immensely beneficial, these shifts are generally not easy. My role is about connecting and working with both customers and partners to help make these business shifts real at the end of the day.
Superpower: Listening (although we could all get better at this). Understanding customer needs and translating technical and business capabilities to fit those needs requires continuously listening to both internal and external parties.
Unofficial role on the team: Sometimes-Social-Chair and Healthy Food Advocate
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: Financial Intelligence by Karen Berman and Joe Knight. This book is not just a good resource for non-finance people, but it puts useful context around business decisions and helps understand external customer constraints.
Favorite cocktail: Whatever interesting house cocktails the bar has dreamed up
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: I researched plasma space rockets in graduate school and still think the cost for a moon vacation can be affordable.
Name: Kenny Boblak
Title: Senior Research Chemist
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: As a research chemist, I design and explore new resin formulations to develop new products. I also support the team through preparing promising formulations for development and production.
Unofficial role on the team: Older Brother
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine
Favorite cocktail: Old Fashioned
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: I am a pool player and have competed in world championship tournaments.
Name: Aditya Balasubramanian
Title: Engineering Director
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: I lead the innovation of new 3D printable materials that will take 3D printing from a prototyping and trinket-making tool to a viable manufacturing technology.
Superpower: Coming up with new ideas and testing them out. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. Connecting the big picture and the tiny details.
Unofficial role on the team: Happy Hour and Holiday Party Planner. Snacks Orderer as well as Primary Consumer.
Favorite book you’ve added to the pS library: Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Favorite cocktail: A good Bloody Mary
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: I once lay on a bed of nails without injury. You could say I nailed it.
Name: Anisa Li
Title: Application Development Engineer
How your job helps polySpectra change the world: Make sure our materials can print effectively beyond the research lab.
Superpower: Learning any language I come across … but only enough to order food/drink and make minimal small talk.
Unofficial role on the team: Machine Nerd
Favorite cocktail: Old Fashioned
Anything else fun you’d like the world to know about you: In college, I co-ran a nonprofit that created custom books for children in orphanages around the world, written and illustrated by students and often translated into the children’s native languages. I also illustrated several storybooks that are now with children in Poland, South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia.
We’ve found a good rhythm with this team that enables us to bat well above our headcount in terms of innovation and impact. If anything, that is a reflection of the complementarity of our skill sets and diversity of experience. We are just taking off, and will be adding many new positions at polySpectra this year, in everything from design for manufacturing to data science to production operations to sales.
From Solo Startup to Real Team
If you’re a founder, how do you hire for your growing team in a smart way?
In a technical field, it can be really easy to hire just based on technical skills and experience — and end up shorthanded when it comes to a broader diversity of skills, perspectives, and identities. We know that a lot of deep tech startups face this challenge. We also know that we’re not the most diverse company out there (particularly when it comes to things like age), but it’s something we’re thoughtful about and strive toward.
As a startup founder, I get how daunting it can be to find the right people to make your vision a reality. Here’s a simple exercise a mentor shared with me once, and I’ve found it incredibly useful when thinking about the qualities to look for in potential hires. Make a quad chart of things you’re “good at/bad at” on one axis and things you “enjoy doing/hate doing” on another. This is a simple reflection that might help you shine some light on your strengths and weaknesses — and suggest the qualities you should look for in new hires. (Hint: hire people who excel at the things in your “bad at and hate doing” box.)
Finally, I recommend doing a Myers–Briggs assessment at 16Personalities.com. I found the results of my own test to be really illuminating, so much so that I bought all of the 16Personalities “premium profiles.” Now I ask everyone I hire to take the test as well. It has been an invaluable tool as a young manager.
I don’t think of it as a way of “quantifying” people — it can be dangerous to label others in a way that pigeonholes them into a perceived category. I think of it more like tarot cards: through the process of reading the characteristics associated with a particular personality type, there are inevitably pieces that ring true in terms of my experience interacting with an individual. The assessment is just a lens — the profiles help me think about the individual from a different angle. In other words, I believe that these types of tools are most useful because they add to the complexity and richness of the interpersonal dynamics, not because they reduce individuals into easy-to-quantify buckets.
Our team is now expanding rapidly — if you’re interested in joining our mission to help designers, inventors and engineers make their ideas real, please take a look at our jobs page: https://jobs.lever.co/polyspectra