6 Tips For Building A Kick-Ass Startup Team

SIBP-Blog-NEW-B-2Who do you need on your team when building a great startup? As with so many things in the entrepreneurial world, there is no one easy answer. Every company’s needs are different, but that doesn’t mean that creating your team needs to be a roll of the dice. Here are six guidelines to keep in mind as you build an exceptional team around your startup.

1. Know What You Need

No matter what kind of business you’re in, you can’t do it all. Even if you have all the skills — from designing and prototyping to sales and management — your time will be better spent on some activities than others. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re going to need plenty of help simply getting your idea to the point where it’s possible to turn it into a functioning business. Knowing what kinds of help you need is a key part of building a successful company.

Having a great idea for a mobile app, for instance, doesn’t mean you have technical skills to code that app. You need a technical co-founder to handle the actual design, coding and testing. You might need to bring in another founder to help you take care of the financial side of the business. Depending on the nature of the business, it may take having three or four partners in place before you have a fully functioning team.

At the same time, you will also need to bring on employees to handle the growing workload. Do you need a full-time software engineer to design and maintain your custom databases, or is what you really need at this stage someone with a solid understanding of Excel to come in three days a week? Only you can answer these questions, but it’s important to spend some time thinking about your actual needs before making any rushed decisions.

2. Know What You Don’t Need

A lot of startups are top heavy. In that initial rush to acquire talent, they’ve brought on a lot of people that aren’t actually needed for where the business actually is. For instance, most smaller companies don’t actually need CFO; what they really need is a bookkeeper. Along the same lines, there’s no reason to hire an HR director when the company consists entirely of co-founders and contractors.

What about knowing where to draw the line between bringing on additional co-founders versus simply hiring employees? I have a simple stress test for this: Do you trust them?

Would you leave your dog with them for an weekend? Would you trust them to babysit your kids? Would you be comfortable letting them drive your significant other home from a party? If not, then they are not going to be good founders. The last thing you want to do with a person you don’t trust is to make them a partner in your company.

You also want to avoid the trap of renting your company’s core competencies. If you’re relying solely on someone else’s talents to grow your business, rather than building institutional structures, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous spot when that person decides to leave.

3. Know Your Company’s Vision

A great team needs a unified purpose to rally behind. It can’t just be about your personal vision for the business. If you want to build a strong, success-driven team, you need to find a common passion or ideal that can bring the group together. This shared vision doesn’t have to be complex, it just has to be something that the entire company believes in, serving as true motivation for the team.

Why is this important? What you’re trying to avoid, particularly in the startup phase of a company, is the feeling that you’ve simply hired a bunch of warm bodies to do the work. Sometimes, you do have to hire people who are only there to make a paycheck, but they’re not the kind of people who make for a great team. When things get tough, they’re the first people to wash out. And they will take every second of time you’ve invested in their training with them.

4. Get The Right Help Quickly

You’re never going to know it all. No matter how experienced you are, you will always need mentors and advisers to help you make good decisions. It’s the best athletes that have the most coaches and trainers.

That said, it pays to be discriminating about who you partner with and learn from. You want to work with folks who will fill the gaps and open the doors that you can’t. How do you find those folks? Get involved in the local startup scene, attend networking events, find local small business associations, and even reach out to people online through sites like LinkedIn. Just getting out there and introducing yourself will generally yield a ton of potential connections.

Another great option is to check out the business education programs at your local colleges. For instance, the program I work with, the Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, is a part of the community college network. It’s a great program, and because it is so accessible it has also become a fantastic resource for finding both advisers and collaborators.

5. Invest In Great Professionals

This is where you’re going to have to spend some money. Your team needs to include some people on the outside who can provide you with objective advice. Their contributions will be well worth the price.

Every startup needs a great attorney. You’re going to have formation issues and employment issues, and you’re probably going to be raising money. You really don’t want to get in the crosshairs of a regulatory agency like the SEC, and having the best attorney you can afford is your best bet to avoid all those problems in the long run.

You’re also going to need a CPA. A good accountant will help you set yourself up correctly, helping you avoid costly tax bills and mistakes.

The good news is that there are some great free resources out there to help. North Carolina has great information resources from the Department of State and the Secretary of Labor.

6. Know When To Be Greedy, And When Not To Be

As Wall Street‘s Gordon Gekko made famous, “Greed is good.” It’s not always good, of course, but in certain contexts it can be. When you’re negotiating your company’s valuation with a prospective investor, trying to get the best dollar amount for what you’ve built, that’s a great time to be greedy. The same is true when you’re finding mentors and advisors, and when bringing in founders and employees. You want the best team, and it’s worth grabbing the best talent you can.

Greed isn’t good when it comes to hoarding information, ideas and resources. Being greedy when it comes to compensation, for instance, can cause all kinds of headaches. Many founders get greedy when it comes to anyone else in the company making more than they do. That’s a truly short-sighted kind of greed, and it can all too easily result in the loss of great talent. Remember this philosophy: It’s always better to own a smaller part of something than a bigger part of nothing.

Don’t let yourself believe that you’re the only one who can do a given job. You need as many good people around you as possible. You want those people to feel like they’re in a win-win relationship, rather than a win-lose one. To drop some North Carolina wisdom: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.