Building a Startup Team

by Jan 26, 2022

Building a business is not a solo sport. Teams of founders have a greater span of knowledge and skills than solo founders. They also support each other when the going gets tough—and it always gets tough. Building a business requires many disparate skills and strengths. Even if you have a diverse range of skills, if you go solo, you probably won’t be able to focus on any single business need to the depth that it needs. And you definitely won’t be able to solve every problem on your own. Building your startup team strategically increases your odds of success.

Investors understand the importance of teams. They want to see that you know your own strengths and weaknesses, and that you’ve spread the risk over a team of smart, capable people with diverse abilities.

You may already have some ideas of who you would like to join your team, or you may not have any idea yet. Let’s start with an exercise to help you identify potential team members and assess the value they bring to the team. Start by drafting a list of your candidates (see our sample chart).

Pro tip: include yourself on this list, and detail your own strengths and passions. Some potential team members to consider may include:

  • Teachers
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Professionals

The 3H Model for Building a Startup Team

Now let’s think about how your list maps onto what your team needs. An easy way to think about balance, skills, and roles on a team is the Disciplined Entrepreneur “3 H model. It’s a fast, simple way to connect your needs with potential team members. The 3 H’s are key roles that every startup needs: hacker, hustler, and hipster.

  • Who on your list can be your lead “hacker”? (The hacker makes the product.)
  • Who on your list can be your lead “hustler”? (The hustler takes care of business, particularly selling.)
  • Who on your list can be your lead “hipster”? (The hipster designs the branding and/or customer experience.)

If you are lacking in any one of the 3 H’s, then you need a plan to fill that gap in the short, medium, and long term. You might need to contract out some areas of need, or consult with your mentor network to get recommendations.

Since most startup founders are unpaid in the early stages, equity in the company is the usual recruitment incentive. Your cofounders will need other sources of income, health insurance, and so on in the early stages of the business. For most people, that means a day job or spousal support. Yet founders also need to devote considerable time and energy to the startup. Not everyone has the resources, energy, or desire to become part of a startup, even if they have the skills you need. You’ll need to find people who share your passion, your drive, and your risk tolerance.

What Makes a Great Team?

Overall, when building a startup team, remember these key points:

  1. A great team maintains creativity and energy.
  2. A great team gets it done, whatever “it” is for the day, the month, or the year.

When considering bringing on a co-founder, ask yourself: “What do I not enjoy doing?” “Where are my weaknesses?” “Who can be complimentary to my skills?” “How can I draw on their passions and interests to recruit them to join my team?”

Technical skills and relevant experience are important, but so are interpersonal skills, communication and working styles, and most of all, trust. In the early days, the “team” may be just you and a co-founder. It’s critical that you have a shared vision and open and honest communication. Don’t assume you’re on the same page: spell out your needs and expectations. Ask what needs and expectations they have. Explore:

  • How much time per week are they willing to devote to the business?
  • Do they fully understand that there may not be a salary for quite some time?
  • Do they share your excitement for your product and your customers?
  • Can you rely on them to follow through with commitments?
  • How do you feel after conversations: energetic? Inspired? Empowered?

The work of building a startup team does not end after offers have been made and accepted. You’ll need to keep an eye on the team dynamics. Notice who offers valuable insights and solutions, who goes above and beyond, who keeps the team positive and moving forward. Be open and honest about how things are working out. If someone is not a good fit, make a change sooner rather than later.

Building a strong team creates a flywheel effect for your startup. Great teams attract great talent, and together they accomplish amazing things.

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