Building Your Startup Team

“From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor’s “traitorous eight” in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better.”

-Peter Thiel, ‘Zero to One’

A startup is on a mission to change the world. And it is impossible to change the world for better without a team. A team, full of diverse members, each with their own opinions but with the same conviction to change the world is a must for a startup.

However, building a team for a startup is not easy. There are a lot of roles to be managed. In addition, finding the perfect people can be quite hard- one person not right for the job can ruin your whole business. Again, maintaining a group of diverse people while dealing with other issues can be difficult as well.

This article provides you with the basics of a startup team, how you could hire teammates and tips on how to build and maintain a successful team.

Who should be in your team?

There are lot of roles to be performed at a startup. More often, most roles will overlap as in a founder might also be the chief investor. Although each startup is unique, a startup team should consist of these following roles:

  1. Founders: Founders are the parents of the startup. The idea is born from them. So they are the most important member of any startup team.

An idea doesn’t sprout from a single individual. Most great startups are the brainchild of two or more people. Think about Apple (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), Google (Sergey Bing and Larry Page) or Airbnb (Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk)- all startups formed from the combined ideas of two or more persons. Thus, from the very beginning, a startup is formed from a team.

Often founders meet at college or were childhood friends sharing the same passion. Whatever the reason, all founders make a great contribution to the starting of a great business.

  1. Mentors: Although the journey of each startup is a road never taken before, it does help to have someone who can guide you with his/her experience. Here’s where mentors come to help.

As Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group says,

“It’s always good to have a helping hand at the start. I wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker. Now, I love mentoring young entrepreneurs. As American author and businessman Zig Ziglar said: “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Find a mentor.”
A mentor for your startup should be someone who is really experienced in his/her field. These are the people who believes in you and most likely they are volunteering to help you grow. But a Mentor can play a great role in the administration of your startup by advising you and giving you guidelines to follow while you build it.

  1. Investors: As your startup journey starts, you will encounter a lot of costs. Handling such costs can be quite a headache. This is where investors come in.

Although you might think of bringing investors in your team later, the opposite is more beneficial. According Heidi Zak, co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove (an inner wear startup):

“You can’t spend six months building a prototype, then wake up one morning and decide it’s time to fundraise and watch the money flow in. You have to network in the finance community as you build your business to secure the right funding.”

Thus, investors should be an early part of your startup team. They are most likely to get board seats and will give you access to a lot of network and resources.

4) Employees: Though they may not have any possession or control of the business, employees play a crucial role in a startup success. It is them who will carry out the decision made by the founders and the investors. They are also the one who will more likely engage with the customers the most. So for an effective startup team, maintaining and managing employees are important tasks.

Tips on hiring and maintaining employees for your startup team

As startups are different from established business, they way employees are hired and maintained are different. To help your startup have and retain some of the best employees in the team, here are five tips on hiring and maintaining employees.

  • Ask, “What can you provide to your team?”

Before finding out people to work for you, begin with yourself. Ask yourself, “What can I provide at my startup that no one else can?” You need to show prospective employees compelling reasons to join your startup.

This necessarily doesn’t mean monetary compensation. What you need to show is your organisation is a place where everyone can make a meaningful impact. It is a place where one would love to work even if the compensation is low because what he/she works now will be valuable for the future.

Read this excerpt from Tim Cook, now the CEO of Apple, when he gave a commencement speech at a graduation ceremony in 2015:

“Steve (Jobs) was an idealist. He convinced me that if we worked hard, and made good products, we too could change the world. I took the job, and it changed my life. It has been 17 years, and I have never once looked back.”

When Cook took the job at Apple, the company was in bankruptcy. Yet, the vision Steve Jobs showed to him made him work there. This is what you should also show to any potential teammate before he/she decides to join your startup.

  • Find passionate people

Having people with the right amount of skills and experience is necessary. But you also need people who are passionate about the work they are doing. Moreover, you need people who will fit in your startup well. This means, you need people who are passionate about both the job he/she is doing and the place where he/she works.

Why is it necessary to have a person with both skills and passion? Well, you just don’t want someone to do the job right, you also need that person do the job better. And that person will only do the job better if he/she believes that the work being done is something valuable. That’s where passion comes along.

What about being passionate about the organisation? A person should not just love the job he/she does, but also the place. He/she shouldn’t mind putting the extra hours needed for a startup to succeed. He/she wouldn’t mind doing things he/she didn’t do before.  That’s being passionate about the organization.

  • Align your team to your goals

After you found your team, your next duty as the founder would be to align your team to your goals. Your team should believe in what you believe in. All of you must have the same goals to pursue.

To relate, look at this excerpt from Peter Thiel’s ‘Zero to One’:
“The early PayPal team worked well together because we were all the same kind of nerd. We all loved science fiction: Cryptonomicon was required reading, and we preferred the capitalist Star Wars to the communist Star Trek. But most importantly, we were all obsessed with creating a digital currency that would be controlled by individuals instead of governments.”

Believing in the same goals make your team members work together to fulfill the goals. They will be more likely to give more efforts for fulfilling the goals.

  • Be a team inside and outside work

In the early days of a startup, your work and personal life will always mix up. So will your team members’. Thus, you will spend a huge and an important amount of time with them. It is important you all maintain the same team spirit both in and out of the team. That is, you understand each other both inside and outside work.

Just working fine during work as a team but disbanding after work is not a good thing for a startup. This means, your team is just there for the sake of the work and nothing else. On the other hand, having good relationships outside work but working terribly as a team is also not a good thing. It means you are not aligned towards the same goals.

You don’t need your team to like everything you like but you do need to have a team who gets along well both inside your startup and outside. Your teammates should become your closest friends.

  • Allow open communication

You have people who are passionate and aligned to your goals. That’s great. But now you must make your team do the most important task- work.

Even if your teammates have the same goals, they have different personalities. Some are shy and less talkative. Others might be proactive and try to take the centre stage. Still others might go on talking and talking while letting others be silent. Such actions might demotivate the less talkative ones and make them feel unimportant. This can seriously affect your team performance.

How do you manage such situations? Google conducted a two year research titled “Project Aristotle” to find out what made the best team. The findings are applicable not only for companies like Google but for startups as well.

The findings found teams were everyone was allowed to voice their opinions equally were more likely to perform better. Building such a team requires building an environment where everyone can say anything and be respected. The findings also found out that frequent socializations instead of focusing on the task can lead to better team performance.

So on your quest to build a great team, allow all of your members to have a say in the work. Allow them to express themselves, about their lives, their likings and their dislikings. This will empower your teammates and motivate them to work better.

This is how you can build and maintain a great startup team. And with a great team, you can build wonders for the world.

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

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