By Rieva Lesonsky
So many tech startups begin the same way: One founder, one dream and a plan to make it happen. Most businesses stay that way – there are many more solo entrepreneurs than business owners with employees. But to succeed, most startups need a much broader set of skills and experience.
If you intend to build a scalable business, you know you can’t do it alone. If you plan to get funded, you need to build a team – a complete, kickass team – that will both get the job done and impress the money people. And you need to do it sooner rather than later.
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So what does it actually take to build a kickass startup team?
I asked someone who knows. Rachel Blankstein has launched two tech startups, including her current business Comparz, a website where independent users review web-based software. She sold her first tech startup econfidant.com to a larger technology company. Blankstein shared her best tips for hiring a kickass team – lessons she learned “the hard way”:
- Every team needs at least two key players: a technical founder (or scientific founder for a science-related startup, or a product expert in a non-technical/non-scientific company) and a revenue driver – someone who understands how revenue is generated in your industry and who already has a deep Rolodex in the audience you are targeting. Without these two players, you will have a much lower chance of success.
- It is absolutely critical that the members of your team have experience in the industry your startup is in. Learning the intricacies of how an industry works, building relevant relationships and understanding the right metrics can happen only over time. Including team members who already have industry experience and relationships will flatten a learning curve you don’t have time to climb.
- You will have the most chance for success by maximizing the number of founders with complementary skill sets. A founding team with a technical lead, a sales lead, a product lead and a marketing lead, for example, will likely be more effective than a team with only two of those four key functional roles.
- Don’t be fooled by titles. Focus on candidates’ real hands-on experience and accomplishments. If a candidate for your technical lead was a CTO at a big company, for example, but he or she says they want to manage and not code, then he or she is not the right fit for an early-stage startup]. A marketing VP from a large company might be useless if they are used to managing agencies, since you’re likely to need a person who has actually run campaigns themselves.
- You’ll save a lot of tension and disruption down the road if you’re upfront and manage your team’s expectations regarding your expected timeline for funding, higher salaries, bonuses, etc.
- The quality of your startup team can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s worth spending time on recruiting. And don’t be afraid to get rid of a team member, irrespective of their title or your relationship with them, if they are not the right fit. If someone is not producing, they are wasting your time, and possibly spoiling your company’s chance to succeed.