How to Pick the Right Team for Your Startup
A 10-step guide to making sure your startup succeeds where so many others fail.
If you're putting a team together for the first time, there’s a good chance that you’ve already got a few people in mind. But, before you start rallying the troops and investing big, it's important to know what the DNA of a winning startup team looks like -- and how you can avoid common (but fatal) mistakes.
1. Prior experience
It might be obvious, but a team with startup experience has a massive advantage over its competitors. The startup world is hard enough to navigate once you understand the way it works. When you have zero prior startup experience, every challenge is a brand new one.
But, understanding the startup scene isn’t the only factor at play here. Having industry-specific experience will make a huge difference as well. Someone with no industry experience is likely to hold your team back in some way or another as well.
The founder or founders of a startup team will, not surprisingly, have a massive role to play in the success or failure of their company. Right off the bat, they need to put together the right team. Even if they understand all of the concepts that we’ll be discussing here today, there are still plenty of hurdles that the founders themselves will have to overcome.
That's why founders need to be the most emotionally stable members of their team. Especially in the startup world, your business will have good days and bad ones, and an emotionally unstable founder can throw off the energy of their entire team quite easily.
If we were only focusing on the tangible aspects of a winning startup team, this would probably be at the top of our list. Still, even when you consider everything that makes a startup team successful, metrics are still worth mentioning.
For starters, metrics show that a startup is taking the process of building a business seriously. Beyond that, a focus on metrics shows a desire to create something that the market actually wants. With a frightening amount of startups pouring thousands of dollars into development without being sure that there’s a market demand for their product, metrics are a clear sign that this startup team cares about winning at the end of the day.
Once a startup has matured into a late-stage company, the company culture and mechanics have become bigger than any individual team member. But, in earlier stages of the startup’s lifecycle, each member’s individual skill level will make a huge difference.
You’ve probably heard something along these lines, but we’ll say it again just to emphasize its importance: Your team must be able to wear multiple hats and put out multiple fires. Having a team of people who are phenomenal at one thing is nice, but what really blows VCs away is when those phenomenal people have a history of solving multiple kinds of problems.
Speaking of wearing multiple hats, putting together a startup team that can embrace the adapt-or-die nature of the startup scene will help put you miles ahead of the competition.
Let’s be honest: Some products don’t sell. When that happens, weaker teams will quit and chalk it up to poor timing or execution. Successful teams pivot.
Having a team of well-rounded, seasoned startup veterans is great, but it means nothing if they can’t clearly communicate with each other.
No one should be working in a vacuum. The team might be made up of individuals, but it should function like a single organism, with each team member identifying and solving both their own and their teammates’ problems.
A startup team isn’t like a typical corporate enterprise, and that’s not by accident. In order to succeed, startup teams have to be built differently. By their very nature, startups require passionate people. Let’s face it: The base pay for startups is lower than that of corporate enterprises, work can be significantly more stressful and the job security is way lower.
Anyone who’s been a part of the startup scene for a while will tell you that startups can be draining. While they can be incredibly creatively fulfilling, there’s no getting around the fact that working for a startup can get pretty stressful.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work at a place where you just do your job and leave at 5pm, but there’s a good chance that kind of person won’t be a good fit for your company culture.
While metrics, products and founders are certainly critical components to the eventual success or failure of a startup, one thing is for sure: Company culture is everything.
Company culture is about more than free snacks and a ping-pong table in the office. It’s about creating an ecosystem that nurtures resourceful ideas and rewards creative thinking. It’s what can attract the right team members, and it’s what can keep those star team members around.
What separates the rare businesses that survives is vision. Having team members who only care about the next three months can still work, but your business has a much better chance of long-term success if your team members are thinking about the future of your business and what it could become.
Eric Sachs is a self-taught, nationally recognized SEO expert who helps businesses revolutionize their online marketing efforts. He began his career in internet marketing in affiliate work and then as the Director of Marketing for a Southern California lead generation company. In 2010 he created his own SEO and digital marketing company, Sachs Marketing Group.