Having the right startup team is half the battle. Investors are not only listening to your pitch, but they are also interested in taking a look at your team’s dynamic. Startup founders should focus on quality, rather than quantity, as part of their job is to connect with people who share their same drive and passion.
In a previous session from the Tallinn Founder Institute, several local startup mentors shared their advice on how to select the right team members for your startup. We've compiled some of the best bits of wisdom from that presentation below for your benefit.
Selecting a Co-Founder
Should you go at it alone or seek a co-founder? This is a conundrum that all entrepreneurs eventually face. Although there is no right answer, bringing in the right person can be significant to your startup's success.
If you decide to enlist a co-founder, keep in mind that they should add complementary skill sets to the team and should help keep you focused and motivated. Also, since so few lucrative companies were founded by a single person, investors are more likely to invest in a founding team rather than a solo entrepreneur.
The founding team will spend a significant amount of time together hustling and overcoming obstacles, so it's important to have the right chemistry. Think of your partnership as a marriage in the business world.
So how do you go about it?
- First, identify the gap in your business. Whether it’s in a specific process or an entire business area, associate yourself with someone who brings that expertise to the startup. Remember, you must complement and learn from each other. A good example are the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce. Moore studied Chemistry, while Noyce had knowledge in Physics.
- Once you’ve identified that need, start with someone that you already know. Your network is a great place to look for potential co-founders. Sometimes it's a good idea to partner up with someone that you’ve worked with before, as there will be familiarity with each others' work ethic, along with a mutual trust and respect for each other. Not only did Kevin and Julia Hartz know each other prior to founding Eventbrite, but they tied the knot, too.
- Next, share your idea with that person. Your co-founder needs to have the same level of passion, excitement and commitment about building something disruptive. Building a prosperous company takes years of dedication, so having someone who's just as invested in your company by your side is essential. Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, shared a common goal and it was to improve the information search on the Internet. Same goes for Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Max Levchin, they wanted to create a different way to receive payments, which led to the development of PayPal.
If you find someone who meets these criteria, you’ve got yourself a strong co-founder.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Keep the lines of communication open at all times; startup life is rarely easy, so take extra steps to ensure that you and your co-founder know how to resolve conflicts quickly.
- Access to market leaders, influencers, and resources is a major plus for your startup, so bonus points if you have a co-founder with an expansive network.
- Calum Cameron, managing director at Startup Wise Guys, said it best: “You can not outsource these founder roles.” The right person needs to be involved in the every day startup hustle, so co-founding a company with someone who's long-distance is a no-no.
This is a nice, helpful co-founder checklist to make things easier for you. In case you want to make some cold contacts, CoFoundersLab, FounderDating and Founder2be are great websites to get you started.
Selecting Your Team Members
With the right co-founder, your startup's chances to succeed will increase exponentially. However, merely having a co-founder on your team isn't enough, for if you want your company to really expand, you'll need a team of dedicated individuals to manage the numerous aspects of a startup, from marketing to operations to development and more.
You can start building a team by following these steps:
- First, identify the voids of your startup to easily identify the skill sets required to satisfy your company's needs.
- Then, start recruiting team members. When it comes to your needs, be as specific as possible to ensure that you're hiring the perfect candidates. Don't be afraid to be picky!
- During the interview process, ask questions to understand the context that they are coming from. Gather information about everyday tasks, specific situations and their participation in building a product or service.
- These answers will help you determine two things: 1) Do they possess the right tools for you startup? 2) Do they they fit the startup’s culture?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Look for strong team members, the kinds that thrive on solving problems and overcoming adversity. Usually, they are no strangers to obstacles.
- Kristjan Lepik, head of Smart Specialization at the Estonian Development Fund, suggests looking for these types of team members: a designer, someone who designs a product/service; a hacker, the brains behind a product/service; and the hustler, the person that makes it happen.
- Add advisors that can address specific purposes. Get them excited and engaged from the get-go. You can offer them some equity, as this not only demonstrates your respect for them, but it helps to raise more value to your company.
FYI: you could use this as a hiring checklist to assist you throughout the process.
What to Avoid When Building Your Team
Sometimes it is difficult to build the right team. We make mistakes during the recruitment process and bring the wrong people onboard. The result: the startup suffers. Although not every process is failsafe, there are steps you can take to minimize risks.
Here are some points that can help you along the way.
- Don't be impressed by a title and assume that a potential hire knows everything. Your startup and their experience might not go hand in hand.
- Riina Einberg, ex-general manager at ZeroTurnaround, brought an interesting term during her talk: generalist. This is a team member that doesn’t possess a specific skill. Instead of serving a specific purpose, they are all over the place and that weakens your team.
- A potential hire needs to see the big picture. Not only will they understand their role in your startup, but it’ll keep them involved and excited.
- It is important to have respect for one another, but do not compromise. Speak out when something is not right and discuss these issues amicably. It’ll help you avoid major differences and misunderstandings, even splits in the future.
- Startups are bootstrapped and team members are usually spread out all over the globe. Communication is key, so reach to them on a daily basis, even if it's only for a few minutes.
- Do not rely solely on email, as startups are dynamic and need faster ways to communicate. Implement conference calls, Skype calls, Google Hangouts and other ways to have short meetings frequently.
As you grow, your startup will go through different phases, so keep your team small for as long as you can. Learn to identify these phases and you’ll be able to find the right person to take on those tasks.
You might have the next million dollar idea in your hands, but if you start with a weak team dynamic, this could be a definite deal breaker for your startup.
Remember, you’re in control, so take charge and build an all-star startup team.