What is the most important thing a new startup needs in order to succeed?
Some might say that there is no one right answer for this question, a popular answer heard a lot is “a great idea is the most important thing an entrepreneur needs”, and from one investor I heard “great timing and access to capital”. My personal opinion is that although good ideas and money are important, they are far from being the most important thing you need. If we take everything into account, nothing makes a difference as much as your team.
To be honest my opinion wasn’t always like this, my line of thought was mostly affected by something I heard by Inon Axel. Inon is the head of a new venture called Cyrus, he co-founded Kasamba an Israeli startup that sold for $40M to Liveperson in the year 2007. Inon Axel’s once said to me “Without a great team you can’t get too far”, he told me that at Kasamba each and every interviewee would go through the CEO interview stage, and this was done to insure that every applicant fits the company culture.
Now let’s assume that you agree with me, and you understand the importance of a good team. Does this mean you are ready to hit the gas full throttle on a co-founder agreement for your new venture?
Before you move forward, here my top 3 tips for building your core team:
Tip number 1: Be diverse, divide and conquer
This is the most important tip in my opinion, due to a common scenario that I have encountered several times: You are about to split responsibilities with your partners, you and your very similar in experience co-founder are interested in taking over the same position (marketing/business development and etc.). What should you do in such a case? When you start out you don’t need two heads saying the same thing, one person for each job is all you need, and if you don’t have a product yet then one is more than enough. If one of you has a good secondary expertise, you have to do what is best for the team and step aside from you first choice. Take into account that if you and your co-founder are not compromising in 10 minutes, that might be a sign, and you might want to reconsider your partnership.
If you do finally agree to divide the work after a long period of discussions (or arguments), take into account the possibility that it might not be the end of it. Even if you already decided on dividing roles, you still might have disagreements on what website platform to use e.g. “WordPress” vs. “Websitebuilder”, or what ad campaign to run with “Google Ads” vs. “Facebook Ads”. You and your team members must give each other a sufficient autonomous work environment, because if you don’t, you will probably be done with your startup before you can say “seed funding”.
Tip number 2: Be more than friends
As founders you are going to spend a lot of time together, some founders sleep in the same room/apartment, some go after the office day is done for a beer, it really makes a huge difference when you build a bond with each other that is stronger than the piece of paper that binds you. While working with co-founders, there is a high potential that you will have many discussions about your personal life, some of these talks will require you to know them in order to help him/her at their time of need. I read a couple of weeks ago on Reddit about a team that slept with each other in the office for 6 months, this is the extreme example and I don’t expect anyone to follow it, but it gives you an idea of how important it is to do more than a 9 to 5 workday with each other.
Tip number 3: Know how your future team members should look like
This might be a confusing tip for newbie entrepreneurs: You need to know how your first hire will look like before you hire them, and at the same time you need to come completely Tabula Rasa to each interview you conduct. When you hire employee number one you need to be extra picky and very open minded in the same time. The wrong person will cost you more than money or equity, it will cost you time, and even it my cost you some health if you are really not attentive to the important things. Your startup has a defined culture from day one, you need to hire people that match that culture or you will not be able to keep them in the long term.
Bonus tip: Devil Advocate
Decide on your Devil’s advocate, any great team has someone that makes sure everyone is in check, a startup filled of Yes Men will have problematic mindset and it can lead to very dangerous group-think. The best way to make great decisions is to have an official devil’s advocate. If you get fed up with your first devil’s advocate, you can always switch with him/her from time to time just to practice this useful mechanism for yourself.
If you have any tips of your own please feel free to share in the comments section bellow.