Founding a successful startup is a task that can easily overwhelm—unless the entrepreneur has built an excellent support team.
Responsible Leadership Means Building a Solid Team
If you think you can go-it-alone, you are sadly mistaken. The founder has more irons in the fire than cowboys at a round-up. Unless you have the support of a competent and trustworthy team, the trajectory of your enterprise will quickly take a direction you won’t like. Founders have to deal with investors, vendors, clients, the press, subordinates and much, much more. Trying to accomplish what must be accomplished without a team will kill your business and very possibly you as well.
Team Building Fails
Before we get into what you should do, it will be helpful for you to read these points on what you should not do.
Bringing friends and/or family on board is a common mistake. You must put the best interests of the enterprise at the fore. If you add someone to the team without carefully considering the contribution they will make and how they may impact the team’s performance, you, your company and your team will pay a high price. The last thing you need is a non-performing team member who’s just looking for a big payout.
Founders can be blind to their weaknesses and exaggerate their strengths. For example, founders often excel in developing a product but come up short on people skills. As your company matures, you need to have people on your team that possess the skills you lack. If you can’t make an objective assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, you are dooming your enterprise to failure. Have people on your team who know how to hire, know how to motivate and understand how to manage a culture. It doesn’t just happen! If your enterprise lacks a well-defined culture, you will experience low productivity, employee churn and increase your risk of running short on cash before gaining traction in your target market.
Corporate or organizational culture is a term that we hear often in discussions regarding entrepreneurship and startup enterprises. One might even make the case for corporate culture having devolved into little more than a buzzword—so much for corporate speak. To many, its meaning has become clouded or even lost.
The development of your enterprise’s corporate culture is the linchpin of its success or failure.
Founder and Co-founders
Before we move on to some team building tips, let me just say a word about co-founders. Co-founders can be a major source of equity dilution, posing greater risk to the value of your stake in the company than venture capitalists. Be extremely judicious in designating co-founders.
Team Building Tips
We’ve touched on this but it bears repeating. The founder(s) must objectively evaluate the skills they possess, determine what necessary skills are lacking and recast the team according to the best interests of the company. Regrettably, this may include eliminating some existing team members that are not adding value. This is a gut-wrenching exercise, but a necessary one and provides the enterprise with the best possible chance of success.
Having recast and established the founding team, it is incumbent upon each player to define his/her role and set strategic goals. When the founding team is successful in building the company to the threshold of soliciting expansion capital, it must establish a coherent culture. The culture should be the product of the founder or the founder in concert with the company’s stakeholders. This corporate culture is particularly important if these funds mean a hiring a larger team. Most founding CEOs recognize the dual benefits of a well-articulated corporate culture.
- Corporate culture establishes core values against which potential hires can be measured.
- Corporate culture creates shared values that smooth the way to an enhanced spirit of cooperation among team members.
Successful startup founder(s) having already looked inward, determining the skills they lack and making the appropriate adjustments, must now turn their focus outward and analyze successful competitors in their market. This is vital for the purpose of proving the startup concept to be a viable one. We all recognize that competition is, to a great extent, an affirmation of the concept. Analyzing successful competitors affords one the opportunity to identify common skill sets in competing founding teams and consider emulating these in your own team.
Creating a world-class founding team and defining the corporate culture of your enterprise are without question, in my view, two of the most important tasks your startup will undertake. Use your highly effective team to promote and grow your business and allow your corporate culture to guide you in the hiring, firing and promoting aspects of your enterprise. Following the advice provided here may be the best possible foundation for the success of your business.
Brian Zeng is a digital marketing consultant based in Shanghai, China. Brian works with some remarkable East Asian startups, and helps them implement result-oriented internet marketing strategies to take business to the next level. He’s also a model airplane buff and anchors the community at RC Top Hobby.
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