The secret behind forming the right team in your startup

In my previous blog post, I talked about business elements that help a startup succeed. At Capria VentureBasecamp, we call it the Critical Success Elements. In this post, I will focus on one of these elements – team.

The kind of team you to have depends on the stage of your startup. For instance, it is fine if you do not know what kind of team you need when you are just ideating and identifying the problem to solve. Once you have your idea and know what problem you need to solve, that’s when you should have a view of what a balanced team looks like for you. For instance, if you are planning to create an educational solution and don’t have an educator in your founding team, you are setting yourself up for failure. As you start working on the first version of your product and validating it with a few early adopters, your core team needs to have three types of people – the Hustler or the salesperson; the Hacker or the tech expert; and the Visionary or the one responsible for the vision and execution of the startup. As the startup evolves, so does the startup team and it ultimately needs to expand to include core experienced and complementary team members to help scale and grow the startup. Remember, it is not just enough to have a team with complementary skill set, the core team needs to have the same moral compass too. But, that’s a conversation for another post.

There is a difference, of course, to hiring people for a startup as compared to hiring people into a large company. Hiring the initial members for a startup is a more intense process. The stakes involved are very high – it is a make or break situation in a fledgling startup. Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, personally interviewed the first 500 employees for his company – building a startup team requires careful decision-making, not dissimilar to a marriage! This is why it is fine to hire slowly but surely in a startup. Some even call it “Hire slow, fire fast”.  

Typically, startups have lesser resources as they are growing and don’t have entrenched departments. Each person in a startup gets to wear multiple hats – a coder one day, a salesperson the next and the customer service role the day after. A startup founder I recently spoke to said that he personally looks at all marketing/PR opportunities that come his way, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the product roadmap and jumping to collect an important marketing collateral from the printer – all in one day. So, while roles and responsibilities are generally carved out, sometimes you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and say “All hands on deck!”

Another important aspect with respect to team formation is the culture of the startup. Oxford dictionary defines culture as “The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” So, what is the right time to define the culture of a startup? Who defines it? I believe that the culture gets built every single day of a startup. The founders have an important role in defining the culture of the startup, but it gets reinforced and reshaped by every single employee. It is not defined by the pool table or the fancy perks of the startup. It is seen in every transaction of the startup – moments of truth with customers, in code reviews, in sales pitches etc. Often times, startup founders procrastinate on this aspect of building the startup and find themselves sinking rapidly into the quicksand of a culture-less organization. But, that’s a conversation for another post!

How did you build your startup team? Where did you find your co-founder? Do you have a team story from your startup trenches?

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