Quite a few startups start randomly and organically. And the teams of those startups can also be assembled or chosen in an unorganized manner. The startup team might be the result of friends, fellow workers, family and perhaps anyone who volunteered. While this might work initially, these teams rarely are built to last. Invariably, as the startup starts to grow, it may outgrow the skillset, maturity and capability of the original team members. What if you looked at this in a whole new way? For example, if you were going to field an expansion NFL football team, how would you recruit or choose the players? How would you choose the management leaders of the organization? Let’s face it, you would not be selecting people near you or randomly. You would choose the best people you could recruit for their specific skills. Yet the random selection of a startup team is a mistake quite a few founders make. There is a more purposeful approach every potential founder should consider. Let’s look at how one startup built their co-founding team in a very purposeful way.
Stance is a sock and underwear brand that was founded in 2009 by Jeff Kearl, John Wilson, Aaron Hennings, Ryan Kingman and Taylor Shupe. Jeff Kearl, who was one of he co-founders at Skull Candy pitched John Wilson, formerly President at Reef, on the idea of disrupting and upscaling the sock industry. Once John agreed to come on board (with sales and marketing skills), they recruited the other three co-founders for their very specific expertise and their willingness to buy into the company vision and mission. Is it a surprise that this company raised over $115 million in funding whose revenue has recently passed $250 million? Is this a dream team that is lucky or are they very talented co-founders who bought into a collective mission with very specific skill sets and expertise?
If you are considering starting a company, you should purposely craft a co-founding team that could hedge your success. You should find the best people that match some of the six skill sets listed below:
The Genius: Product or service expertise is one skill a founding team can’t do without. Often a diva, the genius will challenge the rest of the team and ask for things that the others aren’t sure how to get done. This person is filled with passion and is often considered to be the most high-risk member of the team. They ask for a lot, and they never settle.
The Over Performer: The over performer is the person who gets down to business and accomplishes tasks. From ordering office supplies to keeping the office network running, this person has a combination of eccentricity, nerdiness, and charisma. The genius and the over performer are often the same type of person. Add this person as early to your team as possible as this personality is nearly impossible to add later. Too disruptive.
The Team Leader: Running a team or company with more than one founder is a democratic process, but hard decisions need to be made that affect everyone. Consensus usually requires compromise. Every project team or startup needs a clear leader. It doesn’t mean they’re paid more or have more equity, and they’re not necessarily the CEO. It just means that the others look up to this person and are willing to follow them, if there is conflict and tough decisions need to be made.
The Industry Expert: While departments or startups are often formed around new ideas, it helps to have someone who knows how things are done in the company’s industry. It takes a long immersion in the marketplace to call yourself an insider, to understand the subtleties of the competitive landscape, to recognize people as true assets, and to look through the “noise” in the industry and clearly see the opportunity. The industry expert has been there, seen it and knows what to do.
The Sales Beast: Startups, new departments or growing companies with brilliant products or services often forget that someone needs to sell something. Having a strong salesperson on the team helps minimize the risk. The combination of technical insight, leadership, and sales experience is a hard-to-beat advantage in a competitive marketplace. This person could seemingly sell anything to anybody at any time. Just make sure they have a high degree of integrity to go with their “beast” sales mode.
The Financial Nerd: Every startup needs to manage cash flow and understand gross margin. It also needs exceptional financial talent that can assist with budgets, manage the resources carefully or predict cash flow or burn. While this might be the easiest personality to add, it could be one of the most critical people on the team, especially if managing the finances is critical to the team’s or startup’s success.
Choosing co-founders or initial employees is a critical step in creating the right team that has the expertise to do what is needed, and as important, has collectively bought into the startups mission. Build your founding team carefully and it just might be built to last.