4 tips for budding tech startups from New Relic’s Lew Cirne

By any measure, New Relic is a hit. As one member of President Obama’s tech team said last year: “If you’re not using New Relic … you’re doing it wrong.”

lew cirne verticalFounded in 2008 by Lew Cirne, the San Francisco application performance management company now has 330 employees and is on track to hit $100 million in revenue next year. And, perhaps more to the point here, it has become synonymous with “hot startup” that can back up the hype.  I can’t tell you how many new companies pitch me with: “We want to be the New Relic of X,Y,” (I really can’t, but it’s a lot.)

So what Cirne has to say to would-be startups bears a listen. Here are four tips as an appetizer; I’ll be asking Cirne for more words of wisdom during our Structure: Europe chat on September 18.

1: Take on a real problem

This should be a no brainer, but it’s surprising how many startups seem to pitch a solution in search of a problem. Not good, said Cirne. “What worked for me, anyway, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. I don’t research markets or look at IDC reports. I try to solve a problem I have. If I have it other people do too.”

2: Don’t be afraid to hire proactively

If you come across a high-quality candidate that fits in with your group, go for it, even if you don’t have an opening. “If they have high integrity and is a great fit, if we do things right we’ll grow into them. Never pass on a great candidate just because you think it’s too early. We hire ahead of our needs.”

3: Stay young at heart as you mature

Even as companies grow, they need to keep the entrepreneurial fervor alive. “Fifty percent of my job is building a startup inside New Relic years before we need it. We’re coalescing around a new idea internally and there’s great excitement about it,” he said. Maybe we can pry more details out of him in two weeks.

4: Hire mensches

The smartest guy in the room is not necessarily someone you want to work with. It really helps if you like your colleagues — even as you fight with them — so make that a consideration.

One of Cirne’s litmus tests is how he feels after a challenging conversation. “If you disagree (with that person) do you exit that conversation with a higher or lower degree of energy? You want people who energize you even as they challenge you.”

If the super-duper MIT engineer sucks all the air out of the room, maybe he’s not a good hire for you.