Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lesson #2: Building the Right Team for Your Start-Up

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/01/2011


& Comment

In my earlier post, we talked about key success factors for any start-up and determining if you have a good business model.  Today, we are going to drill down on one those factors: things to consider when setting up your management team.  The key drivers of that are finding employee partners that have: (1) the required skillsets for the job; (2) prior experience with start-ups; (3) a personality fit with the rest of the team; (4) shared vision with the rest of the team; and (5) fire in the belly.

Let's talk about the first two together, as they go hand in hand.  You'd think it would be pretty self-explanatory that for a Chief Marketing Officer hire, as an example, you should find a candidate with strong marketing skills.  But, the tactics differ for different types of marketing vehicles (e.g., digital, print, TV, direct mail), different industries require different expertise (e.g., e-commerce business vs. catalog business) and B2C companies require different skillsets vs. B2B companies (e.g., marketing vs. sales skills).  So, it is important prior to hiring, to make sure you find someone that has deep knowledge of your specific industry and has successfully scaled up businesses within your desired budget range. 

For example, don't put a $1BN budget Proctor & Gamble CMO, in charge of your $1MM start-up budget.  The P&G guy most likely only knows how to build brands with big teams and big budgets, not how to organically and virally grow your business on the cheap in new kinds of ways (e.g., social media, mobile, SEO), rolling up his sleeves and doing it himself on a shoestring.  So, past start-up experience is a definite plus.

As we all know, startups are a 24/7 type of job.  So, you are going to be spending a lot of time with your co-workers.  It is critical there is a good personality fit between the team, as in those late night hours, the last thing you need is someone getting on your nerves.  Or, having one member of your inner circle the pariah within the company that nobody wants to work with.  You don't have time for these types of issues while you are trying to win the start-up race.

Equally important, it is important each member of your team share a consistent vision on exactly what you are building.  As an example, let's say we want to build a car, which seems clear enough at the 30,000 foot view.  But, when you drill down to the specifics, it is important the team know we are all specifically building a mini-van for families, not an SUV, or a pickup truck or a luxury sedan, which appeal to different user markets, have different costs to build and require different marketing tactics.

And, most importantly, it is critical that all involved have a deep passion for the product and fire in the belly to move at light speed to own your market.  This is not a 9 to 5 job.  This is a passion you are living and breathing in real time.  Going back to our Chief Marketing Officer example, somebody that has come from a cushy role, managing a big team of employees with private secretaries and big budgets, most likely is going to have a really tough time going back into the trenches, putting in the required long hours.

So, in the words of Bo Schembechler, the old Michigan football coach: it is all about "The Team! The Team! The Team!" that will ultimately win you your championship.

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