Eight Ways of Building an Effective Startup Team

So, you've had the startup idea. You have a solution to a real problem, you have done your marketing research and analysis, you have secured the initial financing for your startup project, and you cannot wait to start the actual work. But what you need is a team to support you in your startup and to help you get your new business off the ground. Let's see how you can create a team for your startup to ensure growth and success. We have put together a short list of recommendations which may help you answer the major question – how do I build my startup team?

1. Look at Yourself

Yes, before reaching out to other people to join your project, evaluate your own skills, talents, knowledge, and experience. You may be a good marketing manager having a pretty comprehensive idea of how to promote your product-to-be. Or, you may be a developer with an almost complete vision of a solution you are going to create. Or, you may be a financial genius with costs, investments, expenses, and incomes already clicking in your head. Whatever you are, it means that this vacancy in your team is already filled. If you have a co-founder, there is a good chance that he or she is contributing a different set of skills, thus covering more staffing needs.

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At the same time, this short analysis will help you identify the missing skills and the positions you need to fill for your startup to get rolling. However, let's proceed from admitting that at first, you do not need every possible skill there is. You need to form the skeleton crew, the core which your project will grow and evolve on. Let's look at what your Dream Team should look like.

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2. Identify the Key Players

Your smooth launch largely depends on your Ocean's Eleven who are going to be the pillars supporting your enterprise (in fairness, your failure depends on them, too, so choose wisely). So, what is the perfect startup team structure to kickstart your idea?

Despite the allusion to Ocean's Eleven, you do not need that many people on your team at the very beginning. If you are building a tech startup team, the key roles which need to be filled are as follows:

  • The tech genius. This could have been followed by a "No comment", as without a technological expert your app development startup is dead before it is even born. Do not make a mistake of thinking that this position can be filled by a brilliant engineer. This is possible only if the engineer also possesses a solid management or software architecture background. Your technology expert should be able to analyze the competitors' products, see their strong and weak technological points, define and plan the development directions, scaling, speed, and milestones. In other words, they should see the overall picture of product design flow, trying to get ahead of the competitors. So, let's stop beating about the bush – this person is going to be your CTO.
  • The marketing heavyweight. A young startup needs aggressive marketing. Your marketing expert should be charming and persuasive to win your customers, inventive and resourceful to create unique ways of advertising and promoting your product, smart and cruel to see where you fall behind and what should be changed. The marketing expert should find your target audience, plan your advertising campaigns and determine your monetization strategies. Looks like we have outlined the position of the CMO.

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  • The design wizard. No, this is not about graphic design, this is about the complete vision of your product. The design professional should be able to piece together technical details, user experience elements, integration options, third-party components, and a million other things into a finished product. The design expert will see your product as a whole, with all its intricate interrelations, know how it is made and be able to anticipate how any changes or innovations will affect its performance. Thus, we have described the Solutions Architect for you
  • The financial pro. In all the fuss with development, marketing, promotion, design, and planning, someone should undertake the boring task of watching over the finances. Can we hire more people? Can we give a raise to the Solutions Architect? Did we experience a sales growth after recent marketing campaign? The finance manager will have answers to all these questions and also will tell if you should invest into something or if you should think of cutting down the expenses. OK, seems we have the CFO on board
  • The sales guru. Your product should return interest, but it cannot sell itself. Your salesperson must be able to turn the advantages of your custom software into profit for the company. The sales expert should be a quick decision-maker to gain the flexibility needed for negotiations with the potential customers. At the same time, the sales manager should have a very keen sense of responsibility, as they will be making commitments on behalf of the whole company. Well, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the CSO

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Of course, your team members can wear more than one hat. For example, sales and marketing usually go hand in hand, so you may have one colleague filling both functions. At the same time, a good technology expert may have a solid architecture experience turning him or her into a true industry expert. There is a certain business model according to which a startup team may consist of only three “personalities” – a hustler (the project manager/financial officer who is holding everything together), a hacker (the technology engine actually building the product) and a hipster (the designer and user experience pro who can market the product). As you see, this model roughly includes all the roles we’ve described before.

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3. Spread Your Net Wide

While looking for candidates for your startup team, use all opportunities available to you. Surf professional networks, such as LinkedIn. Attend hiring events organized by different communities. Try to persuade your ex-colleagues to join your startup team. At the same time, while you are trying to find a team for your startup, opt for more experienced colleagues, as you will need all support, expertise, and professionalism they can offer to get your show on the road. Later, when you have elbowed your way to the market, you can consider hiring young colleagues with vigor and enthusiasm balancing their lack of experience. For the moment, you are putting together your “board of directors”, so try to engage true experts.

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4. Get Partners, Not Employees

While looking for the management team for your startup, your most important task will be winning people’s trust and convincing them to join your company. Of course, your prospective colleagues understand the risk they are taking, agreeing to participate in your project, and maybe quitting their steady jobs. Once you’ve gotten them onboard, embrace the principles of equal opportunities with no hierarchy or seniority – you are a team of people with the same goal where everyone is contributing their knowledge and skills to achieve success for all.

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At the initial stage, you can consider offering equity to your first team members as compensation for their work. This may be a good option of building a startup team with no or little money at the beginning. However, we recommend getting a stock expert advice, in this case, to distribute your equity fairly and wisely.

5. Be Careful with Cultural Fit

Cultural fit has been a sort of a controversy recently. Yes, the general idea is that you hire people you are comfortable with because you are going to spend a lot of time around them. With such approach, you will, sometimes inadvertently, invite people who share the same values as you do and reject people with a different mindset. This way, you are sure to build a team of like-minded people who will be on the same page with you, thus creating a cozy, family-like environment at work. However, several studies have shown that diverse teams are much more productive and innovative than those built on the basis of cultural fit. Being among people who are different from you will boost your, and everybody else’s, thinking process, thus raising the innovative potential and performance of the entire team.

6. Try to Get Professionals with Secondary Skills

You can find out about them from a candidate’s vitae or during an interview. Even if your project does not need a person’s additional skillset right now, who knows when such need will arise. And then, instead of hiring a new person, you can offer an additional function to your trusted colleague. With proper arrangement, this can be beneficial both for the company and for your team member, as they will be able to show off other talents and you’ll be sure that the new task is in good hands.

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7. Let Go of Team Members Who Do Not Fit

This is hard, realizing that you have made a wrong choice. At the same time, you need to learn to dismiss people who are not up to the task as soon as possible, as keeping an underperforming employee can affect your startup more than a temporarily vacant position. Establishing a company you will face firing people sooner or later. Do not regard such cases as failures. On the contrary, they are opportunities to find a great person to join your team.

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8. Make Your Team Tick

Thus, you have put together a team to cover all functions within your young startup – from the top management to developers, copywriters, promoters and support engineers. However, getting the right people and making them believe that your idea is worth their time and effort is not enough. You have to find ways not only to build a great startup team but also to hold it together and make it last. We suggest adopting some or all of the following recommendations to ensure that your dream team stays strong and efficient:

  • Get to know your team members. Look beyond their resumes and get to really know them. Try to see the personality of each colleague – all people are different and they are motivated by different things. Soon you will know their work patterns, habits, preferences, and routines. This knowledge will help you understand the team and to organize the work process in a way most suitable for all employees

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  • Prefer autonomy to management. Focus on results, not on the office discipline. Each member of your team already has certain work routines and habits which make everyday work easy and comfortable for them. So, do not make people give up their preferred workflows. Let them work from home, offer flexible office hours, and make an opportunity to select handy tools
  • Be flexible with working conditions. You can gather full-time employees, contractors, and freelancers under the same roof if your project flows are not affected. Your colleagues will get the most suitable terms and you may end up with some cash savings if you are not hiring your entire team full-time. Besides, making a sub-standard contractor redundant is easier than dismissing a full-time employee
  • Trust and delegate. You have professionals on your team, so let them do their job as they know it. There is no need to review and approve each move your colleagues make. Of course, this does not mean that you should not even come close to the functions in your team’s responsibility – on the contrary, you should always be proactive to keep abreast with everything that happens in your company. Do not, however, cross the line from being informed to being in total control – a manager who is well aware of what is going on and able to discuss an idea or suggest an improvement is not the same as a manager demanding daily written reports to which there is no feedback

Building a team can become an exciting process. You will meet lots of talented, skillful and professional people which is great even if not all of them get to become your partners. In the long run, you will put together a team you trust and can lean on, a team cohered by the same goal, a team you will be happy to share your success with.

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