How to Build Your First Leadership Team
The primary focus when starting a business is normally building a product and reaching the fabled land of product market fit. There is less focus and discussion on building the leadership team.
Initially, this makes a lot of sense. When we began GO1 (the company I co-founded) it didn’t really matter who had what title: we were all pretty much responsible for everything. At the time I didn’t like to be referred to as the “CEO”—the title didn’t fit my role leading a handful of people.
But over the past three years I have spent an increasing proportion of my time thinking about leadership and how we can develop and grow the management capabilities of our team. On reflection, it’s clear that we were incredibly fortunate to draw on the complementary strengths of our founding team.
When starting a business, what comes first: the idea or the founding team? It’s a bit of a chicken or egg question. And for that matter, how large should the founding team be?
Y Combinator, which was the first investor in high growth startups such as Dropbox, Airbnb and Stripe, famously almost always refuses to back solo founders.
Growing a company can be a challenging process, and YC believes the odds are better when you have some co-founders. The initial team will also help shape the concept that you take to market.
For GO1, we started with four friends, most of us had known each other since high school. Our founding team comprised of a lawyer, medical doctor, engineer and an economist.
At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a logical grouping of people to launch a tech company.
Entirely by luck and coincidence the four of us also had more practical and complementary skills that would define the areas of our focus in the business.
My passion has always been a plus. I enjoy identifying problems and finding solutions, and so I tended to focus on defining our strategy and designing our product.
Chris Hood, the engineer, unsurprisingly became our CTO. In a technology business like ours, having deep knowledge and internal capability on software development is critical.
Chris Eigeland, the lawyer, was Australia’s youth ambassador to the United Nations at the time we started GO1. His diplomatic nature and ability to engage and motivate teams meant that he was the ideal person to oversee our go to market operations.
And Vu Tran, the doctor, applied the skills he learned at medical school as our head of growth. Doctors are trained to take a patient’s history, understand their problems, make a diagnosis and communicate a treatment plan. This same thinking has been used to scale up our sales team, helping us understand customer’s problems and identify a solution that genuinely solves their needs.
But there is no shortage of advice on how founding teams should come together. What works for us may not work for others.
That being said, there are two aspects that are universal.
The most important condition when choosing co-founders is the ability to work together, both during the good times and the hard times.
And ideally, your team can complement each other and focus on developing the various parts of the business that will be needed to succeed.
With a strong bond and a complementary set of skills, hopefully, your founding team can make it to product market fit and beyond.