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.
Discipline, housekeeper and operations
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.
Great post! Having started 2 companies myself, I believe the composition of a team is a key ingredient to success. The most overlooked team member is the technical one. Most people develop ideas and try to hire someone to build the product for them. WARNING: there will be bugs, issues, etc that you do not know how to deal with. Might as well add the technical founder to the team in order to share the burden of building the next Facebook or Google. Just my two cents!
I just wanted to share my ideas about what a good team consists of.
I would say that if you wanted to create a good team you would need three things, a leader, a salesman and a specialist.
The leader has to be a motivator that is able to keep the team going through the most difficult times when there is no income, no money to pay salary, the product failed or isn’t working or through what ever difficulties that come up. He has to be willing to work the longest hours and sacrifice everything for his business and for his team mates. He has to have enough knowledge on both sales and the specialistic field that the company is working in to be able to see when the other team mates are working on peek productivity and when they are not. He has to be able and wiling to jump into any role in the company, do any work, basically just do anything that has to be done.
Then you need a stubborn salesperson that doesn’t take no for an answer and is willing to go the distance to finish a sale. He has to understand the industry that he is working in but more then that he has to be motivated to be the best salesperson in the whole industry. Salespersons should always have some kind of a bonus system where they are rewarded for a good job perhaps even having their entire salary commission based.
Then there is the specialist, the specialist could be specialized in some sort of technology, programming etc. but he could also be specialized something else like design, UX-design, product design or whatever that is the most important thing about your product. Here you want to find the “nerd” or the person that is so interested in what he does that he spends most of his free time also working on gathering more information about the subject. You might say you would want a person obsessed with it.
But I think it is not enough just to find these three things, you also need to find the people that can work together, that have minds and actions that can be intertwined into fantastic results.
I don’t think you can have a successful start-up unless you have a team that is passionate about what they do, professional, and can communicate well, not only with potential customers and clients, but with one another. Many people might have a good business idea, but if they aren’t able to manage expectations and communicate well (e.g., they expect to delegate all business matters to a particular hire, while they focus on creativity and brainstorming), then they are going to be disadvantaged in the long-term. After all, if a team is unable to communicate their visions and expectations with each other, then how do they expect to do so with their clients?
I guess it also goes without saying, but I also think that professionalism and consistency are key. A large part of the start-up culture is premised on the fact that start-ups are just that: works-in-progress. However, just because there might not be an HR department to develop internal policies and procedures, and a legal team to draft and negotiate contracts with clients, doesn’t mean that a certain level of professionalism shouldn’t be expected.
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