Trying to start up something is always a tricky affair. You’re constantly trying to balance vision with present-day pragmatism. You’re constantly selling to customers as well as potential staff(when you’re a startup, you actually have to convince people to work for you.) You’re constantly looking for the right founding team who will make the necessary sacrifices to turn the startup into a viable business and eventually a full-scale company.
None of this is harder or trickier than that last bit I feel. You see, finding the right founding team is a task filled with surprises because, like Forrest Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I’ve had my share of identifying the wrong folks to work with. And I thought I’d share 5 things I’ve learnt…
1. You don’t want to bring in someone whose only concern is how much he’s getting paid.
He has to believe in the vision and he must want to slog his ass off to make it reality. Too many people just want the glory of being in startup. Truth be told, startups are like Special Ops Forces – they go through the roughest tasks, with less than minimum resources, are shorthanded and do pretty much everything. Totally cool. But just like in special ops, everyone has to pull their own weight lest everyone gets killed or captured.
2. Don’t bring in people who buy into the dream but isn’t sure whether they want to drop what they’re doing to come fully aboard.
Now sometimes it’s not fear but circumstance that prevents people from taking the plunge but in either case, unless you’re subcontracting work out to the person on a project-by-project basis, you’re not going to feel too great when he’s having a job and using whatever spare time he can find to work on your idea when you’re spending every waking moment on it with little or no pay. The ‘struggle disparity’ might not bite you at the start, but it will much later when you wake up one day asking yourself, “Why is it that I risk everything for this and this is just a lets-see-if-this-will-make-it-big-so-i-can-leave-my-comfy-job project for him.” Everyone else in the team dedicated to the idea full-time will get this feeling eventually too and the friction will be absolutely distracting.
3. Choose passionate people open to trying new things first.
This is critical. If you’re looking for a technical person, find one who lives and breathes tech. If you’re looking for a marketing geek, make sure it’s someone who’s utterly obsessed with trying new ways to manipulate the perception of the masses. But make sure they’re open to new things because if they’re of a one-track mind, then they’re not going to be able to adapt to the environment that you operate in. For example, I knew extremely smart people who refused to go onto social networks simply because they think it’s a waste of time. This would be fine…if the company wasn’t building a social media product. The team members need to be able to live within the environment that the company is operating in. Refusal, or lack of interest in trying out that space just means they wouldn’t understand it as well as the competitor whose team immerses themselves into it.
4. People who can think independently is a must. Balls would be a plus point.
Ok, I didn’t mean that males are preferred. I meant that gutsy folks make it better to keep ideas and thoughts in a constant state of refinement by having the guts to tell you or anyone in the team what they think. In Asia, it might be the cultural norm to be polite and all but when you’re in a small team with enough resources to make one attempt and getting something right, it’s better for someone to confront an idea rather than be passive and let the team make a mistake and squander away the team’s one chance. And they need to be independent because if all they do is take direction from you, then you’re not really building a sustainable team. You need someone who knows which part of the idea he’s tasked to work on and runs with it from there. You do not want to be the bottleneck. You definitely do not want someone to make you the bottleneck.
5. Corporate types who are sick of corporations are a great addition.
They’ve been part of the big boys so they can tell you how they work and yet they’re sick of the corporate bureaucracy so they’re definitely not coming to join you to implement long drawn out processes that slow you down. All in all, it means they have a better feel of where the big companies are weak and how a small team can modify the way they function to gain an advantage.
Just so you get a feel of where i’m drawing all this from… I ran a Web Solutions company called Splazz Solutions back in 2004, went on to work in an iJam funded start up called Widgeous building a unified communications platform for Twitter, SMS and IM in 2007 before moving to starting a mobile application development company Ridz Technologies in 2009. Each venture was with a different group of people, most of whom I’m still very good friends with and have gone on to do things in other fields of IT, pharmaceuticals and education. As of August 2010, I am exploring new ventures around turning this website into a digital publication, building a game and also doing freelance development work on the BlackBerry as well as general web development.