5 Steps to Building the Perfect Team for your Startup

5 Steps to Building the Perfect Team for your Startup

Starting a new company is scary. Sleepless nights, long hours, and bureaucratic red tape are all knocking at your door. You need a support team. You must balance the inordinate amount of work with people who will be by your side every step of the way.

But how do you find them? Having the right people by your side is critical to your success as a new company. You don’t need to be a hero and do it all yourself.

What you do need to do is find people that are as passionate as you are. Find the folks who sleep, eat, and breathe your vision. The ones who treat the dream as their own. You are not looking for the most skilled person in the field. You are looking for the person who aligns with your dream. Someone who is going to get the job done. Skills can be taught, but passion is core to who we are.

Don’t just look for people blind with passion though. You need to find the select group of people who are passionate about the guiding principles and core foundation of your startup. Finding the right people starts with a solid foundation and set of principles they can get behind.

Step 1: Define Your Core Pillars

Why are you building your startup? Is the world missing the next big thing? Are there people in need somewhere that can’t currently be helped? Do you think you can provide a service better than what’s out there already? Whatever your motivation is for your startup, you need to build a foundation around it.

When defining your core pillars, you don’t want to be specific about your product or service. You need to focus on the principles and characteristics of the company you want to build. You want to detail what is going to make you excited to come into work day after day. For example, some of your core pillars might be:

  • Outstanding customer service — You want to emphasize a strong customer experience when dealing with your startup. This is what sets you apart from your competition. You have a passion for making people happy.
  • **Work until it’s done, not until it’s 5 o’clock **— You are motivated to get your startup off the ground. You go the extra mile and push past traditional hours because you know your competition isn’t working nearly as hard. You have a passion for delivery.
  • **Do it right the first time — **Focus on getting the kinks out before you reach prime time. If you know there is a problem or a gap somewhere, fix it. It doesn’t matter if it will take an extra 24 hours to get it done. You design to delight to make your customers happy. You have a passion for an incredible user experience.
  • **Round the clock support **— You know how frustrating it is to have a problem with a product or service only to realize their help desk is closed for the night. You need help now. You want your company to be on-call and ready to help at a moment’s notice. You have a passion for reliability.

After you have your core pillars, use them as guidelines. Be flexible. Your startup is a living, breathing organism. It will change as it grows. If you need to add another pillar, do it. If you have outgrown one of your original pillars, feel free to modify or remove it. What you’re doing with your pillars is building your foundation and common ground for the people that share your passion and enthusiasm.

Step 2: Find the Right People

Often easier said than done, finding the right people can be a burdensome task. When starting your company from the ground up, it’s often easy to look to your friends and family as employees. Be careful. While you know these people personally, you may or may not know them professionally. They could be totally different people behind closed business doors. Things to consider before employing your friends:

  • Power struggle — Your friends probably don’t see you as an authority. Getting them to change their mindset and see you as their boss might prove to be difficult.
  • Unrealistic expectations — “I’ve known the boss for years, he/she won’t mind if I leave early this afternoon” or “I’m your best friend, of course you need to make me CTO” or “I’ve done a good job this year, I deserve a 50% bonus and a pay raise.” Managing expectations because of your personal relationship can be awkward and lead to uncomfortable situations.
  • Reprimanding or Firing — The personal relationship you’ve built up with your friends can make it difficult to reprimand them in a professional environment. When you have other employees that you do not have the personal rapport with, you need to be careful not to show favoritism.

However, including your friends and family as investors is a great option. They will be out of the day to day minutiae but will also be able to share your successes.

Look for people who are passionate about your cause and align with your core pillars. When interviewing, ask open-ended questions around your pillars. Get their opinions on what they think about working until the job is done, or providing outstanding customer service, or doing it right the first time, etc…

Remember, you aren’t necessarily looking for the highest skilled person out there. Right now, you are defining your company culture. You’re building your personality. Look for people who match your personality type and will bring a unique flair of their own. You need to find people who will work together well.

How do you find people like this? It’s 2019, the possibilities are endless. You don’t have to follow traditional routes anymore. Society is evolving to a digital-centric world. Put an ad out on Twitter or look at your extended connections on LinkedIn. Passionate people are out there, you just need to know where to look.

Step 3: Don’t “Hire Titles”

I see startups getting flak all the time about their creative titles. “VP of Globalized Corporate Understanding” or “Chief Robot Whisperer” are cool sounding titles, yes, but they are just that — titles. When in the initial crazy phase of your startup, the last thing you want to do is build niche silos for your employees. You need to go into the startup phase knowing full well that every person will have their hand in everything.

Let people grow into their roles at your company. You know the work that needs to be done. Having a common pool of work items will allow your team to pick up what they are naturally good at and have a passion for. They know what they like. Someone on your team is going to have an inclination toward financials. There’s always one. That is going to be your future CFO. But for now, they are “employee #7” until you’ve matured to the point where you need a CFO. In the meantime, employee #7 is going to participate in design, QA, admin, financials, and who knows what else.

Step 4: Give Constant Feedback

In the early phases of your startup when everyone is doing a little bit of everything, it is important to get in the habit of providing routine feedback. You are all developing the company culture together, and if someone is veering off course, it is critical to catch them early and get realigned. You will prevent bad habits from forming if you do it early and often.

Think of your team at this stage as a “consensus team.” A consensus team is a group of individuals who all have equal influence over important decisions. All members are equal and decisions should be made with an upper majority, if not unanimous, vote. Make sure everyone knows why a decision was made.

Use this feedback loop not just for negative feedback. Offer recognition for something that went particularly well. Use a notable effort as an opportunity to establish a best practice going forward. You are going to succeed or fail as a team. By keeping the morale high, you maintain a high level of productivity and ensure the best effort is being put forward.

Step 5: Do the Work

With your team assembled and the right mindset in place, it’s time for take-off. Get going with a team of like-minded individuals who all share the same dream. Don’t silo yourself. Keep the team involved in all areas. You don’t need specialists yet. Expect everyone to be a generalist at the beginning. They don’t have to be the most highly skilled individual in something. Your team members will grow into their eventual positions.

Most importantly, remember to have fun and stay passionate about your business. Surround yourself with a powerful team. You will never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do.

Allen Helton

About Allen

Allen is an AWS Serverless Hero passionate about educating others about the cloud, serverless, and APIs. He is the host of the Ready, Set, Cloud podcast and creator of this website. More about Allen.

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