Choose Wisely: Your Team Can Make or Break Your Startup

Latest posts by Nathalie Couët (see all)

There are a number of reasons that businesses don’t succeed. Almost a quarter of startups (23 percent) fail because they didn’t have the right team. Thus, building and surrounding yourself with the right team is one of the foremost priorities you have as an entrepreneur.

When DashThis was starting out in 2011, it was just our founder, Stéphane Guérin, in his basement. For over four years, Stéphane and his small, remote team created and refined their software as a service (SaaS) product. In 2016, when it was time to grow the business exponentially and spread internationally, it all started with the team, so Stéphane and his two partners built a team from scratch.

Over the past eight years, they’ve figured out what it takes to build a startup team that doesn’t fail. Below are some of their best insights for building a successful team:

Hire for motivation, the skills will follow

In a regular corporate environment, you spend about 40 hours a week with your team, so it’s best if you get along with them and trust them to do their jobs well.

In a self-funded startup, however, the environment is more intense, more stressful, and will most likely include more hours of work. Your team almost becomes your second family.

Your team has to be comprised of people you trust not just to be good at their jobs, but to be excellent at them. And since a startup is, by definition, a nascent business with lots of strategizing and discussions to be had, it’s important that your team be comprised of people that you’re comfortable disagreeing with on a daily basis.

So with this in mind, remember one thing when choosing your team: skills can be taught, but a great attitude can’t be.

For example, from the outside, our team might seem relatively green: the average age of our team is in the low 30s, and we all come from relatively diverse backgrounds (aka, most of us hadn’t worked in a SaaS before).

It’s important to seek out individuals with skills in your respective field, even if those skills have not yet been translated into your startup’s specific environment. But more particularly, look for individuals with the motivation to constantly learn and improve their skills, as well as an innate drive. It’s about finding those types of individuals who are ready to fight tooth and nail for the success of your business.

Take your time, don’t rush into a new hire

Be patient when you’re hiring. It does you no good to fill an empty desk just for the sake of filling it.

A lot of VC-backed startups go through an intense hiring phase when they receive new investments, because they’re focused on rapid exponential growth. As a bootstrapped operation, you won’t have the same luxury to hire simply when you think you might need a new employee.

But this is actually a good thing.

So, especially if you’re bootstrapped like we are, let it get to the point where it hurts a bit, where you just can’t allow yourself not to hire. That’s when you bring someone new on board.

Create a team, not a group of individuals

Again, you aren’t just hiring a set of skills, you’re hiring people.

In a small team, with the high-stress and rapid business changes that usually occur in a startup environment, interpersonal collaboration can make or break your business.

Encourage the interdepartmental collaboration that comes naturally with a small team and overlapping specialties. Don’t pigeon-hole your team: your account managers probably have some killer UX suggestions, and your developers can definitely add some much-needed creativity to your marketing ideas.

Although no one can afford to have meetings on top of meetings for no reason, dropping into a conversation that you overhear because you’ve got an idea on a project is incredibly helpful to your team as a whole.

Keep in mind: a resumé, word-of-mouth and some LinkedIn research is for determining if your candidate is professionally qualified.

An interview is for figuring out if your candidate has the determination and positive attitude your startup needs. And those are hard things to gauge in a 45-minute interview happening between four office walls.

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When you’ve found the right people, trust them wholeheartedly

Allowing for creativity outside of an employee’s usual scope of work is really a matter of trust. And if you’ve chosen your team for their drive and willingness to go above and beyond, this trust should come naturally.

If you hire someone because they’re either already great at what they do, or they’re becoming great at what they do, leave them the freedom to show you that expertise and run with it. And I know, as an entrepreneur, trusting a team with your vision can be terrifying, but the more honest you are with your team, the more likely your vision is to become theirs, as well.

Trust and honesty is cyclical. Honesty begets honesty. By keeping your team involved in the decision-making process, everyone is more likely to put their full effort into helping your business grow.

An informed and autonomous team is a motivated one.

And a motivated team creates a kick-ass product.

And a kick-ass product makes clients happy.

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