Success Strategies

The Mantra for Successful Startups Is 'Team First, Ego Last'

The Mantra for Successful Startups Is 'Team First, Ego Last'
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Think of the most successful entrepreneurs and the attributes they exemplify: innovation, vision, creative genius, perseverance -- and ego. People who don’t believe in their ability to create the new and different won’t get very far. And certainly, there are stories of giant egos among some very successful entrepreneurs.

But in the most successful startups that I’ve witnessed, creating the next generation of must-have products or breakthrough solutions takes more than a founder with an oversized ego. Every great idea needs a “best team,” or the right people coming together to service the organization and its customers.

Having an amazing team is a crucial building block for any values-based organization, whether a well-established company with tens of thousands of people or a brand new venture with a small nucleus of talent. In fact, the team is the real make or break for entrepreneurial success. That’s why I like to say the secret to values-based entrepreneurship is “team first, ego last.”

Related: The 6 Skills Every Successful Entrepreneur Needs

Best teams form when every person is committed to becoming his or her best self -- starting with the founder whose personal values are the basis of the organization’s values. Becoming your best self is an ongoing commitment to put the organization and its best team first -- ahead of your own ego.

For those looking to instill a value-based focus into their company, here are a few tips:

Be confident

The values-based entrepreneur recognizes the importance of having true self-confidence -- knowing what you know and what you don’t know. True self-confidence allows you to recognize the uniqueness of your proposition so that you can sell it with confidence and authenticity to customers.

Act humble

A value-based entrepreneur needs genuine humility -- affirming the importance of every single person and communicating that no one is more important than anyone else. By example, the values-based entrepreneur demonstrates “servant leadership,” whereby the leader serves the team and together they devote themselves to the mission and vision of the organization.

Focus on the mission

When a team is small, fit with the organization’s values is crucial. If one person is unaligned, the negative impact is exponential. On a values-based best team everyone, starting with the founder, is willing to subordinate his/her ego. It isn’t about any one individual. Rather, it’s all about the team that serves the enterprise.

Related: 5 Kinds of People Who Will Help You Succeed as an Entrepreneur


Building a team of people who are aligned with the organization’s values (and those of the founder) takes clear and consistent communication, starting at recruitment and hiring and continuing through onboarding. There is no perfect system to screen for cultural fit and often when someone is on the job and facing pressure the truth comes out of just how well aligned that person is with the organization’s values. At the same time, the values should be visible in the words and actions of the team.

The team first, ego last attitude of a values-based startup remains an imperative as the venture advances through the initial growth phases and more people come on board. In a startup, no silos can exist. Everyone must be willing to do whatever it takes in a “lean” organization. Someone might be from finance or engineering, but if a customer order needs to be packed in boxes, then everyone must pitch in. Egos that keep people wedded to their titles and selective about what they will and will not do undermine the organization.

Delivering the innovative solutions and products to the marketplace takes a great idea. But the best way to turn that idea into a sustainable enterprise is by putting the team first and egos last.

Related: If You Want Greatness, Take Responsibility