Is there anything more important to an entrepreneur than his/her idea? It depends who you ask. For those uninitiated to the world of entrepreneurism the answer may be no, without a good idea how can one have a startup. Yet for those who have been down the startup road the answer probably is yes. Ideas are plentiful, but execution is everything. How should a founder create his/her team? My limited experience with entrepreneurs is that most of them choose to bring in family members to help them with their business. My eyes have clearly been opened after reading in Wasserman’s, The Founder’s Team, the relationship dilemmas founders are faced with when putting together a startup team.
Before we get to the dilemmas, let’s look at the areas where founders would seek people for their team. Wasserman asks us to envision three concentric circles. Each circle represents a different group of contacts. The inner circle represents direct contacts; such as friends and spouses, already established relationships. The middle circle represents indirect contacts or indirect networking; these are relationships established through a mutual acquaintance. The outer circle represents an impersonal search; these are strangers that have been identified as having the necessary skills or abilities or someone the founder just met and likes. (Wasserman) The founder will use the three areas to find team members, but what will the make-up of the team be?
Think about your past work experience and where you felt the most comfortable. Were there similarities amongst the co-workers around race, gender, education levels, and work experience which made it a comfortable work environment? If so, that is what is referred to as a homogenous team. It sounds wonderful to work with others where there is so much in common, especially for a start-up where speed is of the essence and recruiting needs to be accomplished quickly. Unfortunately, those similarities can cause problems down the road. The critical skills needed in one area may be missing when the team shares so many of the same skill sets.
Now think about your past work experience that was more diverse. People of all races, genders, work experience and education levels. Was that as comfortable? Perhaps not, but in a startup situation a diverse team lends itself to being more flexible, creative and innovative. Wasserman states the social networks that these people come with are much broader and their opportunities to recruit employees and their access to potential investors is greater than the homogenous team. (Wasserman)
Depending upon which way the founder will develop his/her team, there are soft factors that all teams must have. Soft factors are shared values, commitment levels, risk preferences and personality. These are not attributes that can be determined from reading a resume. It requires the founder to spend quality time with the person.
Are your eyes wide open yet? That’s okay, here are some more aspects of team development that the founder needs to think about when considering friends, family, and past coworkers. It can be easy to want to bring in family and friends because they are people you trust, plus they believe in you and the idea. The possibility of the relationship changing is greater with family and friends. The founder needs highly dedicated and motivated team members. Will that be possible with friends or family? This is something the founder must give a lot of thought to before they are brought on board. Eventually there may be problems, challenging conversations or difficult decisions that need to be made; will the friends and family members be able to separate their personal relationship from the business relationship with the founder? If not, there is a high risk that the relationship may end up permanently damaged. I, myself, know a few families where the family members do not speak to each other because of what went on in their businesses. I am not suggesting not to hire friends or family, nor do both The Founder’s Dilemma and How To Hire A-Players authors. What they do suggest is to be extremely transparent in regards to roles, responsibilities and communication.
Now what about past coworkers? One of the biggest advantages of coworkers is that they are used to working with the founder in a professional way. They do not have the close personal relationships that family and friends do and, therefore, the likelihood of the relationship being damaged is much less risk. Of course, the founder still needs to remember to make the team diverse and not duplicate skillsets or the same issues of homogenous teams will rear its ugly head.
Once the type of team the founder decides to put together is decided, now he/she must think of the individual players. When I started reading Eric Herrenkohl’s, How To Hire A-Players, I thought my contacts might pop out of my eyes. Perhaps it is my naivety, or not reaching “the rare air,” or spending the last 20 years in kitchens, but I never knew that employees were categorized by letters: A, B, C. It made me really start to think of what letter I am and how do others think of me in the workplace. That’s a blog for another day.
A, B, C players are just what they sound like. In the Performance Pyramid by Herrenkohl, he suggests within the workplace C’s do the basics or get fired and the B’s are proactive, take responsibility and do solid work. The A Player’s performance yields creative solutions. The A’s are able to see new opportunities and constantly performing at an elite level. (Herrenkohl) Hiring the right people will not only impact the future of the business, but the life for the founder. If the founder wants to be tied to the business 24/7, then hire only B’s and C’s. If the founder wants a life outside of the business, then he/she will be better served by hiring some A players that willingly take the reins and help run the business. Hiring A players is not done only at the beginning of the start-up; Herrenkohl believes that the attributes of an A player must be built into the culture of the company. It must be woven through the fabric of the management team down to all the other employees. A players want to be around A players. If you don’t agree with Herrenkohl, I suggest you call Kevin Durant who recently left the Thunder in Oklahoma to join the Golden State Warriors in California to play with other A players in the hopes of winning an NBA championship.
Although most companies don’t start off fully loaded with A’s like the Golden State Warriors, there are some critical steps that can be taken to create a work force of A’s. First off create the A profile, know the skills they need for the position and what skills you can you teach them, interview many candidates- emphasis on many candidates. A’s are not a dime a dozen, look deep and wide. A players may not have the exact work experience or the “right education,” but focus on whether they meet your profile. Always be on the lookout for A’s. Even if there are no open positions, one can still be interviewing (as long as you explain this process to the candidate), as you never know when you might find an A and have to create a position. The founder can make hiring and recruiting such a high priority within the management team and culture of the company that A players will bring other A players and the potential for growth and success for the company will be greater. (Herrenkohl)
I’m not sure about you, but my eyes are wide open and my vision is a bit blurry about the challenges, complications and strategies in creating the team for a start-up. There is so much to think about in order to get the right team mix. It no doubt is one of the most important ingredients in the creation of a startup. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be seeing the eye doctor at the end of the month.
Wasserman, Noam The Founder’s Dilemmas. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2012.
Herrenkohl, Eric How To Hire A-Players. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010