Why Building The Right Team Is The Most Important Part Of Launching A Successful Startup

by Paul Hudson

I was lucky enough to become a part of the Elite Daily team early on in its lifetime. When I started, there were no more than 10 of us sitting in the office and cranking out article after article. Since these good 'ole days – not much more than a year ago – Elite has more than quadrupled in size. Fellow employees have come and gone, but the majority of the people who have joined the team remain part of the team.

As far as startups go, Elite’s turnover rate is rather low. The key to Elite’s success is, of course, the guidance and direction of both founders, but more importantly it is the team that these leaders have assembled. It turns out that a leader, in large part, is only as good as his army. This is not to say that a crappy leader will be able to do much with A players, but the same goes for great leaders with B and C players.

I myself am on the verge of launching my first tech startup and am finding that putting together an A team is just as difficult as it sounds. This, of course, is only amplified by the fact that as a lean startup, keeping the overhead at a minimum is essential and, more often than not, paying employees a salary from day one isn’t a possibility.

Of course, there are other ways of motivating a team to put in a great effort that doesn’t necessarily involve a salary from the get-go. Often, startups will have their employees defer their salaries in return for some sort of equity in the company – usually in the form of warrants (stock options). However, as an entrepreneur, knowing whether or not a person will be worth their weight in gold is near impossible even if you already know the person beforehand.

Just this week I had to let go of my first hire, who was a friend of mine that I have already known for years. He’s an intelligent guy and relatively diligent, but after the first day in the office I already knew that it was going to be a good fit. The problem about the tech industry is the same as what’s so beautiful about it: You get to sit on your computer all day and work.

For some people, it’s a dream come true, for others… not so much. Even though my now ex-employee spent most of his time surfing the web watching videos at home, having him surf the web to find video content for my curated video content startup wasn’t tickling his pickle. It all comes down to this: either the people you are hiring want to do the work and want to be part of the team or they don’t. You simply can’t force people to want to do something.

This goes for much more than just your employees. You can’t force yourself to do something that you aren’t passionate about either. Of course, you could quite literally force yourself to action and get yourself to do things you don’t necessarily enjoy doing, but when it comes down to creation and innovation, if you don’t want to do what you’re doing – if you don’t love what you do – you’ll never excel in your field.

There will always be other people who love what they do and can’t imagine themselves doing anything else. Sooner or later a person like this, if he or she is smart, will put together a great team that is hungry to work and to produce great products and they will become a force that you and your second-hand team can’t possibly compete with.

If you are planning to launch your own startup then I have to assume that you have a passion for entrepreneurship and, more importantly, a passion for whatever products or services you are providing. If you don’t then I recommend you don’t waste your time and find a different niche that you are more interested in. If you are in the right place then your first focus must be on putting together a great team.

You are not your company – you are only the head. The rest of the body has to be just as strong, if not stronger, for you to be able to succeed. If you don’t build an A team with the right people then you are guaranteed to fail sooner or later (hopefully sooner, so that you can learn form your mistake as fast as possible and start from scratch).

When looking to build a team look for people that are more interested in what you and your company are doing than they are in their salaries and/or possible equity. Such employees are going to be more interested in working and producing great work than in collecting their paychecks. Of course, you can’t take advantage of people either, but great employees have a way of quickly proving themselves valuable. You’ll know if someone is worth having onboard within the first few months.

Lastly, if you are going to consider giving equity to key employees, have them prove themselves first. You may think you know someone, but until they are working with you for at least six months, you really don’t know what they are and aren’t capable of. Key first-stage hires can definitely be worth up to 2% of the company after all options are exercised.

Photo credit: Jobs