A Startup team composition is like putting together a winning sport team. You need to balance the strengths and weakness for every team member so that the Whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is easier said than done. I learnt this very early on in my career, I started working for a startup in India that was developing database applications for the Financial Services industry. Even though we were small, I started as an intern and I was 20th employee or something like that, the account teams that had the right mix of people seems to out-perform the other account teams. I did not realize that then but when I look back, it is obvious. I started seeing this in lot more detail when I joined Ernst & Young Management Consulting Practice in Houston, Texas after my Graduate Program at LSU. E&Y did not put a lot of emphasis on the majors, we had team members who were recruited with English or History major. I learnt that diversity was very important in a team. I got very involved in the recruiting teams for E&Y, we would visit many universities and take part in identifying, scouting and recruiting talented individuals to form high performance teams. If you think about it E&Y, had no product but Professional Service, so the team basically was the product. I also learnt the power of mentoring, coaching and on-the-job training. Every project that I took on while at E&Y was like a startup, I learnt very quickly that rapid prototyping is the key to keep your customer engaged, in our case it meant whether we continued to have billable hours or not. If you have been part of a professional services organization you know that you live or die by your billable hours or sold billable hours. I also got trained on performance management, goal setting, executing and metrics. If we could not communicate our value to our clients we just got fired as simple as that. I think Startups are just like that. So, what is an ideal team composition for a startup? I want to say it depends on the stage you are in. Lets assume you are starting up and you have this brilliant idea and you have done enough work to see there is a market potential and you can validate the hypothesis.
Technology in you DNA – Maven
One of the team member has to have technology in her DNA, I don’t care which business you are creating if you don’t have one of the founders with a technical background, I strongly encourage the team to go and get one. There is no substitute, you cannot outsource it and I don’t care how efficient or skilled the team you have outsourced your solution to, it will not work so don’t bother. Find and convince a technical team member to join your effort. I am big fan of the book Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. The technical team member should be a Maven in the technologies that you are using to build the solution. Every team member needs to have the quality that Paul Graham talk about here
Vision, Spokesman – Connector and Salesman
The second team member should be a Connector and Salesman, she should be able to communicate the vision, the solution and why you are doing what you are doing in your Startup in any medium. She also needs to be a fantastic networker and connector, she needs to know everyone and be able to relate to different cohorts in the community.
This team member should be the one that takes care of all the other stuff i.e. are the books in order, are we making sure our legal stuff is in order. Is everyone being fed, is our house clean. Keep the other members in line with regard to executing and being disciplined about the milestones and tasks as it relates to the overall agreed objective of the Startup. This is in my opinion one of the important and over-looked role within a Startup, understandably because you have so many moving parts that it is hard to be efficient and disciplined, but it is a paramount requirement.
All the team members need to have the qualities as described by Paul Graham in his post on How to Start a Startup, look under the heading People. Or try to have your team members like the A-Team.