"But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The elusive perfect startup has been a holy grail that has eluded the most determined of suitors. But not for want of trying. Everyone has a secret formula, a blueprint of success that blazes in momentary glory only to be lost in the back draft of the next great way of doing things… There are a million pieces of contrarian advice going around, a mishmash of information that sends you around in circles. Like all seemingly complex issues though the answer to all this is quite simple.
The perfect startup needs a perfect team at the core.
Easy to say, difficult to achieve. Early on as your company is still taking shape, taking tentative first steps, do you have any idea of what a perfect team should be like?
Obviously not! But over the years a lot of people have studied a lot of successful startups and come to similar conclusions. You need these Super Six people types to fire up your startup on the trajectory of success.
You need a person on the team with deep-down core expertise in the domain and a problem-solving mindset. She or he will challenge the limits, ask the other to push themselves, think beyond the expected. Passionate, resourceful and inventive, this person is the flame that burns the brightest; showing others the way. And, sometimes, the path less taken.
We all know the type. This is the person who gets things done. In a startup environment this is critical. Getting down to the brass tacks while keeping an eye on the lofty vision is a special skill that does not come to everyone. From simple things like keeping projects on schedule to making sure all the compliances are in place, this person will have answers before you come up with questions.
In all the madness who is keeping track of your burn rate? A numbers person in the core team is critical as this person frees up the bandwidth of other co-founders. They are secure in the knowledge that someone with a strong sense of numbers and priorities is monitoring everything closely and the company will not run out of capital at a critical time.
Your idea may be brilliant but who will tell that world about it. Enter the salesperson. So deep into the product or service you are about and so passionate. This is the person who will help you create a standout competitive edge in the marketplace.
Aka the person who has been around and knows the industry inside out. This person is the perfect counterpoise to the new idea the startup is all about. A sounding board for all that is extant, the strengths, the weakness of the competition and most importantly, the opportunities in the marketplace.
Left or right, up or down? There are times when startups face these critical questions. Hard decisions that have to be taken by someone. This is the role for the decider. This must be a person who everyone should respect, who most probably is the person with the vision of where all this is going.
The thing to note is that these are six personality types and not six exclusive persons. For example, the decider and the solution might be one person. But what is important is that the core team should have members who are strong in the skills outlined above and also embody different skills to make the team complete and stable. A side benefit of having people play these different roles intuitively is that you minimize one-upmanship.
Flexibility is the key
Now that you have identified the key roles you need in your core start-up team the easy part is over. Finding the right people is a tough ask for any organisation. More so for a start-up. Here’s a person who’s just right but cannot commit to a full time position. What do you do? The question to ask yourself at all times is this: ‘Do I need the person or do I need that person’s experience and skills to help me achieve my objective?’ When you rotate your view a whole new world of possibilities open up. With this change of viewpoint, you have access to a vast pool of intelligent, motivated professionals who can come on board as and when required and make your team stronger in every way. Seek deep skills, relevant or even tangential experience: for example someone with a history of successful device selling to a gaming development startup… the inherent selling skills are always at the core; and critical to success. Above all, look for the right fit in terms of attitude and passion, these are the magic ingredients that matter, always.
As a founder or one of the founders, you may play one or more of the 6 roles yourself, but if you find a person who is more able, be sure to slowly but surely abdicate that throne to make way for that person to contribute fully. Re-engineer your team management skills and your own ego. Perfect teams are not accidents, they have to be built with deliberation and care. What matters is whether your start-up reaches its true potential, so take help from wherever you get it- old ties and new, full time resources and part time consultants, people with great contacts and people with great ideas.
You all must be aware of this fact: 80% of new businesses fail within a year-and-a-half. That is a scary statistic for every entrepreneur. But look closely and you will find that the ones that made it were the ones that were always flexible, open to new ideas about roles and responsibilities. Ready to experiment yet very clear about what they wanted from their teams. Success lies in embracing change not fighting it. The initial days at a startup may represent a ride across the rapids but with the right team and a flexible approach you will get where you want to be.
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