Having the wrong people by your side will result in almost certain failure – sometimes sooner, sometimes later.
Most founders do not realize it and they just focus on their product or market until it is too late and when they have already burnt through all their cash.
That is why finding the right co-founders is of extreme importance – no solo founder will be able to build a scalable business because nobody has all the necessary skills to implement everything needed for the basic functioning of the company.
Finding the right co-founders is probably the most important task for any founder. The right partner will help you get through rough times, will pick you up when you are down and will compliment your sills.
Conflicts will always materialize between co-founders. What is important is that you and your co-founders find solutions together and work toward finding a solution, instead of looking for somebody to blame.
You may think that you will need a lot of startup capital to gather the right people, but often that is not the case. You will only need to be a good storyteller – like Steve Jobs said: “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come…”.
Why do you need to be good at telling stories?
You are an entrepreneur, not a fairytale writer after all. Actually, you should be both. What does that mean?
Every startup has to have a vision and that vision should be clear enough to all stakeholders: clients, employees, investors, and founders. Often, this vision starts as a dream in the head of the founder and if it happens to remain within the walls of his head it never sees the light of the day and never materializes.
That is the case with most of the startup ideas. They sound great and have the potential to change the whole world, but too often people are too afraid to act on them, too afraid to try to tell them to others, too afraid to share.
In order to bring that idea to life, you will have to convince other people that this whole endeavor is worthy of their time.
This brings us back to the reason why you should be good at telling tales and stories: nothing is more convincing than a great story. A passionate speech in front of the right people can bring them on board almost immediately. Especially if the dream behind that speech aligns with their own goals.
Building your team
A team made of smart and highly motivated individuals will increase the chances of survival of the startup by a great deal.
Sometimes finding the right co-founder (or co-founders) may seem at a first glance being a pure accident (although if the process is analyzed properly one can find that it was not an accident after all, but rather a long sequence of unconscious and conscious steps towards finding the right person).
Finding a good partner(s) actually requires a strong push on your side and has very little to do with luck. This simply means that there are certain steps you have to take in order to achieve that:
1. Start by getting your personality right
The first step is always to evaluate your own skillset; your strengths and weaknesses.
You have to find which skills you excel in and which you lack. That will be extremely important when you are looking for help.
We can give the following example: A highly technical person (often) is unable to think about how he/she can market his idea or promote it to investors. That is why this type of founder needs a marketing/business-oriented individual that can help with getting that vision communicated to your customers.
A technical person (engineer, scientist, or researcher) will usually have a hard time when it comes to the formulation of a prospective business strategy. Creating a great product is one thing, commercializing is something completely different.
Two founders are the bare minimum for a startup team. The perfect starting duo should be made of people focused on those two sides of the business – product and market. A great example for a team of two was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
It is not only about hard skills…
…soft ones are equally important when it comes to running a business and this could be seen in multiple already successful teams.
The way you speak with people, the way you sense them, the way you move, the way you express your feelings – everything matters in that game so you better polish your people skills. However, it is important to stay humble – do what you excel at, but find good people for everything else.
2. Get team members who are not afraid to take action
At the beginning of the enterprise, there are going to be many unknowns and a lot of work to be done.
That is why you need to have people who are willing to experiment and to bear the consequences of those experiments.
The reason for this is very simple: you won’t be able to oversee everything that they do and even if you could, sometimes trial and error could be better than executing on a prepared plan.
Speaking of which, you will need individuals who can take responsibility for their own work because you have to treat them as equals. However, a certain push from you (as a leader) won’t hurt – you don’t want to lose the end of the endeavor.
The point is that if the team is great (and motivated) at doing their job, you will have to put very little energy into keeping them from getting distracted.
3. Build a collective that will stand the test of time
Don’t just bring a bunch of people and call them a team.
Create it while keeping in mind the whole structure of the organization. Why so early? Well, because once the company starts growing, it will be much easier for you to build on top of the strong foundations that you have laid.
The analogy with a building is a very good one because it gives you the perspective of how business planning should be done.
The founding team has to be strong enough to keep the whole “construction” stable and if one of the foundations tremble, the chances that everything will fall apart are very high. That being said: choose wisely – because any early changes within the founding team in the first years of the startup can result in a loss of motivation which will have dire consequences on the bottom line.
Write down all the departments that you think you will need. Here is an example:
- Product development and design
- Marketing and sales
- Finance and accounting
- Human resources
You will need to hire people in order to build the required Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
This means that at least in the very beginning of the enterprise there is going to be a need for resources only in some of those departments (perhaps product development and sales). These employees will have to act as leaders of those departments and once you start to scale they will be responsible for hiring new additions to their respective departments.
4. Find co-founders who know that the company is there to solve a certain problem – customers’ problem
Every person on the team should be driven by the need to increase the level of customer satisfaction. The product is important, but if it is not targeted at the right people with the right features, no matter how complex and high tech it is, it will always fail to deliver revenue.
When you are just starting a company, you may not have the money to hire many people and that could mean that everybody within the team will have to participate in sales (at least in some way).
So, you have to ensure that everyone knows the basic principles behind serving a customer:
- Constant improvement
To keep the machine of your startup running, all of the levers and gears of the customer service should be well oiled. If that does not happen as soon as possible, the startup may not be able to scale quickly enough and fail to deliver on its promises to investors which is not a good situation to be in.
Another problem that may occur is that the competition could move first in your market and take the piece of pie that was initially targeted by you.
5. Make sure that the team gets along with each other
A huge problem that can occur during the first years of the startup is the arguments between team members.
Keep this in mind: The fact that you brought professionals together from various fields does not mean that you have created a team.
In order to build a team, you will have to find people who can work together like one whole organism. In other words, their actions should be synergetic and should complement each other.
You can always try to see if they will start working in harmony sooner or later and you will often have to act as a moderator in order to soothe the emotions that can arise during the conflicts. If the team does not seem to find a way to work together – then perhaps you should either dissolve it or restructure it (changing positions or excluding certain members).
6. Diversify the team as much as possible
Everybody has their own strengths. Some of us are better organized and structured. Others are having greater creativity and can imagine things that no one else can.
There are people who can compute complex mathematical problems without the need for a calculator or computer. The point is that the uniqueness of each of the team members can help with the general creativity of the startup. This means that a homogeneous team will have much less creative energy than a team made of team members who complement each other’s skills.
Learn to tolerate each member for his/her shortcomings, focusing on the value one brings to the team and to the company.
If everyone has the same weaknesses, there won’t be a person to check each other’s performance and that is of extreme importance because if not corrected on time everybody will make the same mistakes and they will accumulate until they reach a tipping point.
7. Make sure that the team shares your vision
There is no such thing as a great startup without great vision.
An important part of the whole endeavor as a founder is making your team believe in you and your vision. It all starts with that. If that is not in place from the very beginning some dire consequences can occur.
Miscommunication with your fellow colleagues will act destabilizing and demoralizing to the whole team.
Missing the end goal of the company from the information that you supply to the team can lower their morale and make them quit when the push comes to shove. As you understand, this is а recipe for disaster and can ruin the startup.
How can you make sure that everybody is on the same page with you?
Before starting, take the time to think about the company culture you want to build and how close everybody will be to the proposed vision for the enterprise. Will the culture be more autocratic or friendly? Will it be results or process-driven? Choose wisely as this will make or break your dream.
Company culture should stem from the vision so once set, it would guide the team to work on solving customers’ problems.
In summary – Creating a great startup team is a science and art
Only a small number of startups begin their formation organically. The teams of such organizations can be created in a relatively random fashion.
The startup team might be a mix of friends, co-workers, family members, or anyone who believed in the dream. While this might work initially, those groups rarely last long.
More often than not, as the startup starts to grow, it may outgrow the capacities of the original team members and the original founders may have to start to look for new additions. When that happens, the steps we described here should be always taken into account – one way or another.
Your team needs to grow with your startup – in size and in maturity. It is normal practice to see managing teams being replaced at different states of the company – you start with a team that can hustle and can bring initial revenue, but later you will need people with enterprise skills who can scale the company to greater revenue and build a wide customer base. You as a founder need to make the difficult decisions how you going to manage your team for the best of your company,