Companies change. Products evolve. Approaches get thrown out the window. The centrifugal force alone of that kind of rapid development is enough to throw anyone off center. Throughout my experience, one guiding rule on team building in fast-moving companies has emerged: hire people, not skills.
It can be tempting when you’re first growing to hire someone specifically to fill a gap in your company’s skillset. If you hire someone for skills alone, however, they may lose balance as the company grows, when those skills are no longer as central or get placed into a different context. Each time I have built a team, personal traits – not professional skills – have been what propelled the company forward.
So, what traits matter? The answer is going to vary by company and founder, but I look for the following:
Cultural Fit (45%)
Fit is arguably the most important of any qualification. Start-ups can be very hard, and they become impossible if you don’t love the people around you. Getting the culture right is critical. No matter how stellar a candidate’s skills are, if they don’t fit well with your team, it won’t work out for anyone involved. Be careful here though: fit should not signal conformity. You do not need 12 identical personalities. You need a mix of people with differing perspectives but shared values. You need at team that is cohesive because of its differences.
Scrappiness and Drive (35%)
At Performable, we include scrappiness in the job description. We seek out people who have toppled challenges with very limited resources. This is not just about being lean. It is about the character of the team. The four most powerful words coming from a new hire are: “I’ll figure it out.” Find someone who you can trust to say that and follow through on it, and you’ve found a true asset.
This kind of drive is different than traditional ambition. Ambitious people will succeed at any task laid before them. They will personally excel, quickly rising from manager to director to vice president. A scrappy person who is driven does not rely on titles or defined responsibilities. He or she will push the company forward even when no one’s looking. Driven people move through the responsibilities on their lists, but also keep a constant eye on how the company as a whole can do things smarter and better.
Intelligence and Experience (15% and 5%, respectively)
Intelligence and experience are valuable, but a scrappy person who fits well on the team can learn fast. In a start-up, jobs are always changing. So when you think about intelligence and experience, make sure you are thinking about it in terms of a genuine hunger to learn and level of life-experience that enables the candidate to easily adapt and evolve.
Discovering these traits in candidates may come down to a gut feeling for many, but some of it can be illuminated by carefully posed questions and by getting a candidate outside of the typical interview set-up. Whenever possible change the setting, meet candidates outside of the office, at events or out for coffee. Get them talking rather than answering. Find out what it is that makes them tick.
Interesting to see how angel investors think or make their decisions. It’s really useful knowledge if you like to pitch your idea to one or just to see and judge if your business idea is in a good spot.
1) “Drill more holes”. Investing in many companies is the only way to balance the risks of markets, teams and competition. Maintain a relatively large portfolio.
2) If you can’t judge the team, market and product thoroughly, it’s probably not a wise investment.
3) Keep some powder dry for subsequent rounds. While the best return in a successful investment comes from investing earlier, holding some cash back can mitigate some risk.
4) Don’t make assumptions during the honeymoon. While making an investment, you’re probably seeing the company in its best light. Things will likely get worse before they get better.
5) Team over idea – Ideas are cool, but quality teams are cooler. A great team can make a mediocre idea soar or morph it into a better one over time. Often, mediocre teams struggle to create success even when they start with a great idea. I have to believe that the team can knock the ball out of the park. Only then do I consider the idea itself. As a corollary to this, I need to trust the CEO. Surprisingly, I find this to be a real issue from time to time.
6) There has to be a grownup involved – For all the energy, drive, brains and talent in most startups, there’s often a dearth of wisdom. Someone needs to be involved to provide it and be a sounding board for the startup team. This person or these people should be on the company’s Board of Directors. They can come from inside or outside of the investor group (inside preferable).
7) You can’t and don’t even want to try to tie up every loose end – As much as you’d like everything in the investment to be taken care of and completely thought out, it ain’t gonna happen. Things change along the way. The investor and founding team need to feel like they will make adjustments together as warranted.
8) Friend’s before business – This is a personal rule of mine that I’ve broken more than once. Fortunately, it’s never backfired on me. I take both my friendships and my involvement with companies seriously. As such, the potential for conflict is high if I mix them – things never go the way you plan. There are always going to be situations in which the investor needs to support either the company or the management team. Can you support the company over your friend? Your friend over the company? Why even put yourself in that position? (via Venturebeat)
How is your company pitch?
If you are able to sell your company idea in 5 minutes you have much better chances in today’s competitive funding climate. You need to make your point fast, elegantly and succinctly.
To check how good you pitched your idea just answer these simple questions: Was my audience inspired? Are they able to acurately re-tell my story?
1) Be clear and candid about how your company will achive success in the face of competition. Be honest with yourself. You can have a compelling presentation even if your company isn’t a “one and only” unique idea. By proactively addressing foreseeable roadblocks your company may face you gain trust and build credibility.
Critical questions to answer during your presentation include:
a) What is the company vision?
b) Do you have a five-year plan in place? If not, a concrete vision for the immediate future and why it’s crucial for the current market will do it.
c) What is the problem being addressed? What’s wrong with the status quo and without your product, how are people operating today? Use real world examples and sound bites that make your product memorable
d) Where does your company fit in the market? Regardless of whether you offer a physical product, a software feature,
application, or platform, you should candidly define that market reality, and present sales and marketing plans to back up
your model. Why will you win versus the competition? If you win, who loses or what changes?
2) Present the facts. Crucial to include: overall market size for your product today, list of competitors, your basic business model, how much funding you have raised (if any), names key team members and micro-bios
3) Be passionate. Tell your story with emotion and energy.
The Basic Pitch Outline
Following is a sample outline many successful startup presentations follow. To make it work and worth 5 Minutes use short video clips, images, graphics, and minimal text. You should mostly speak to each of the points below, using graphics to reinforce your spoken words.
Headline (your vision)
Company Purpose (short and sweet)
Problem (customer pain)
Solution (value prop to customer – great to add real customer stories)
Why Now (history and evolution)
Market Size (who are your target customers)
Competition (honest list)
Product (description and road map)
Business Model (revenue, pricing etc.)
Customer Acquisition plan (marketing and sales)
Team (founders & management)
4) Just five minutes to stand out from the other presenting companies!
5) Best company pitchmen aren’t salespeople. They are great storytellers!
- Preparing for a 60 second pitch on This Week In Startups (customercradle.com)
- 5 Lessons from 150 startup pitches (asmartbear.com)
They start with a vision rather than a list of features.
“Dad, where was the internet before the computer was invented?”
read my post on hubbleinnovations.com