Starting up a startup (2): How to build your team



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The previous article described some methods to create and validate a business idea as an entrepreneur at the start of your road. You have already seen that you must take care of all the details to increase your chances of success. But that doesn’t mean you have to “do everything.” The team you build around you is critical. In the following lines, I will give you some suggestions on how to build it.

A study conducted by professors at universities in Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon shows a simple and, at the same time, surprising result: 60% of startups fail due to poor team management. The ideas we talked about in the last article are essential. But putting them into practice is just as important – and here, the team is what matters, with its multidisciplinary skills. Having this in mind, you should consider several things.

Did you cover all the skills?

Starting up a startup (2): How to build your team

You probably have a clear vision about your core business, most likely with a powerful technological component. For example, you already know you need, let’s say, more developers – and what type of developers. But you will be less inclined to identify the so-called “support” skills that are indispensable for a company at the start of the road. You probably won’t have any problems buying your toner or paper, so there’s no point in hiring someone for it. But for starters, don’t forget the following:

• Your business cannot work without an accountant. It is one of the mandatory legal requirements for any professional management you would like to do.

Human resources, cleaning, logistics? In the beginning, you’ll probably need to handle things without specific departments. I say this from my own experience: if you have a university education, at first it will seem a little crazy to cover all these needs, especially after you had a well-paid job in a large company. But you will quickly learn.

Law: seems less important but is just as crucial as other departments. I know business people who experienced plenty of problems because the contract models they used were copied from the internet and had problematic clauses, especially in the last part, referring, for example, to the courtrooms where disputes are settled. If your business has an online component, you will need to make sure that you meet the legal requirements related to data protection and cookies. You will realize that this can be solved by a timely consultation with legal specialists and compliance.

Marketing: this should be on your agenda even if you do not directly interface with individual consumers. An essential component for startups is the “corporate affairs” field implemented for big companies, which includes everything related to the company’s image and communication with other firms – or with potential investors. It is natural that your revolutionary product only exists as a sketch or in the proof-of-concept stage. However, your startup needs to sell through branding.

Concerning all the above, it is best to divide the skills you need into “internal” and “external” because some specific activities can be outsourced, such as the online environment. This will help the internal organization chart become a lot clearer.

Part-time, volunteering, internship, friends

Starting up a startup (2): How to build your team

If you start with a financing that covers salary costs for a year or more, this kind of resource is not for you. However, in the real world, most startups have limited funds in the beginning. Therefore, you will need to identify all the resources you can use for free – or almost for free.

Friends: You can ask them to take you to meetings, assuming you don’t have a car, or carrying your belongings, as long as they are not excessively large or bulky. If I were to speak from my own experience, I don’t know how I would have managed in the beginning without friends and family. When I say this, I am not referring primarily to material support or encouragement, but real help.

Volunteering/internship: Simple tasks can be solved by senior students or recent graduates who are very much interested in internships. It is good to know that there is a law on volunteering, according to which volunteers are required to have a job description, to avoid past situations of “jack-of-all-trades” sent to buy coffee. But, on the other hand, according to the same law, the experience of volunteering in your startup will count not only on their CVs but also towards seniority – so you do have something to offer.

Part-time: At first, it is difficult to understand the number of working hours required for a specific task. One suggestion I can give you is to get an estimate from the candidates who will often give honest answers. Part-time is also an option if you need a person with superior programming, business skills or others. If he possesses these skills, that person probably has a well-paid position in a larger company. But it is likely for him to have the availability or desire to invest some time in your startup as a second job.

How do you recruit?

Starting up a startup (2): How to build your team

Assuming that the initial organization chart is crystal clear to you, you must start identifying promising candidates. Consider the following things:

• Various job sites and LinkedIn will help you for free or at low costs for hard skills. I use LinkedIn successfully by receiving funding requests from entrepreneurs. I have thus made some promising investments.

The CV is essential, but what should you focus on? It might be better to pay less attention to professional experience if your startup operates in a new, disruptive market. In a food company, the Sales Director must be highly connected with the big retail chains, with a significant experience. But most likely, studies and certifications are more important to you, so you need to have the know-how to check and validate them.

• Pay attention to the psychological profile of the candidates. Those who dare to join a startup will be attracted by the novelty and the possibility of developing professionally. But what you offer is neither a high salary nor stability. From a motivational point of view, it is worth looking carefully at the letters of intent of the candidates. They are called “letters de motivation” for a reason. If there are too many “challenges” in those letters, the author probably does not need many challenges.

Pay attention to brainstorming, the roles of others and your role

Starting up a startup (2): How to build your team

Any startup needs to be creative, so you need to ensure that the brainstorming process works for your company. Brainstorming (“mental storm”) has strict rules that you can easily find online. One of the essential premises of the concept is related to a critical psychological theory from recent decades. An elite team delivers good results if it relies on role distribution, apart from each member’s hard skills or professional background. One of them may be the primary creator of ideas. A second one may very well be a good critic of ideas, not in the sense of rejecting them but by refining and adjusting them. A third one could translate everything very well into figures, financial or technical data. A fourth may distinguish himself through synthesizing the problem and solutions through personal insights. And so on.

This theory will make you think about your role. As a company founder, you will be tempted to oversee all your startup details, and it is excellent if you manage to do that. But disruptive innovations are the prerogative of highly skilled creative people. They will be less willing to comply with rigid hierarchies, rules and mandatory provisions. Today, a good manager uses employee motivation and the power of their example rather than authoritarian tools. A characteristic of new businesses is that no manager can exceed, in terms of competence, the knowledge of any member of the team, taken separately.

Although the startup I founded three years ago, Key Way Group, has hundreds of employees now, I still apply these rules. But it is about the young people, with many different skills, who contribute to the growth of the business through their motivations and the pleasant climate that we managed to provide for them. I think these are essential elements of my success story.

You can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn!

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