The success or otherwise of a startup rests on its founding team. A shared vision, passion, domain expertise, a can-do attitude and ability to multi-task are some of the traits that make for a robust startup team.
By Monica Mehta
Over the years, studies have revealed that 23 percent of startup failures are attributed to an inadept startup team. Building a strong startup team, therefore, is the most important task Founders face in launching a successful startup and securing investor funding.
Investors almost always don’t invest in ideas; they invest in founding startup teams, even if that “team” happens to be just one or two persons. An inept founding team can ensure that even the most innovative idea fails, while an adept and strong startup team can make even mediocre ideas a resounding success.
So how do Founders recognize possible team members ahead of time for a startup team who have that potential? Such potential team members have some common attributes and approaches that are non-negotiable as far as building a robust startup team is concerned, and that startup Founders can look for.
Building a phenomenal team can give competitive leverage towards execution:
The startup team should demonstrate complementary and diverse strengths as well as skillsets. The key is to have a well-balanced team that can handle a wide range of responsibilities. Team members need to be ready to wear multiple hats at the same time while being adaptive and flexible. They must have the ability to read the signs early, and if the early signs point towards a pivot, they should have the innate strength to do so quickly.
Personalities and nature of interpersonal relations play a critical role in the startup journey. Constant conflicts within the startup team can put the startup’s success in serious jeopardy. On the other hand, a great understanding and camaraderie amongst the founding team members go a long way in keeping the team together.
Sharing a common vision and maintaining a laser-sharp focus:
For a startup to succeed, every team member must share the founder’s vision. It is the founder’s responsibility to ensure that the startup team consists of members that are aligned with the company’s vision and understand why they are doing what they are doing. More often than not, once the team starts believing in the company’s vision, they exhibit the enviable traits of passion and dedication. Passion is integral to a startup team as it alone can keep the team upbeat and motivated at all times.
The Founder must maintain a laser focus on narrowing the scope, rather than expanding it. This means ensuring that side-tracks are eliminated, cultural alignment is strong, priorities are on common ground, and the people are mature enough to understand the realities and on-ground situation.
Prior startup and industry-specific experience:
Investor evaluation of startups follows a mixed pattern. While some investors rely on their instincts and are positive about the future of the startups, others look for mitigating the risk factor by giving weightage to the previous experience of a startup launch. Before investing in a startup, investors exude confidence on startup teams which include talent with domain and industry-led expertise, especially in sectors where specialized knowledge is required viz. AI, ML, Medicine etc.
Therefore, founding teams must possess street smarts, as well as prior skills and experience as the startup culture is all about getting hands dirty, multi-tasking and learning on a day to day basis. While the prior experience will help in bringing domain expertise and product orientation to the business, a street smart approach will lead to customer centricity and ensuring relationships with stakeholders.
Willing to learn and ability to see challenges as opportunities:
The startup propensity to be flexible in approach, willingness to learn past mistakes and openness to feedback is a critical trait that investors look for. Investors in fact like to see founding teams that see every problem as an opportunity to innovate, rather than a chance to fail. Obstacles should be seen as creative challenges that pave the way for innovation rather than as impediments. The tasks that seem insurmountable often have an alternate and perhaps a better solution that is lurking around the corner. You just need to look hard.
While it is important for startup founders to keep all these factors in mind while hiring, the mantra is not to build the team keeping the startup phase alone in mind. It is prudent to plan the hiring requirements not only around the present stage but also around where the company is headed in the future. Keeping in mind the long-term vision for the business is the key to building a team that stays together on the journey.
To sum up, one of the key focus areas while starting up is to assemble a passionate team that believes in a collective vision, is adept at multitasking and revels in getting its hands dirty to make things happen. Informative years of any startup, talent edge is a key differentiator where small teams are expected to deliver big results.