Success Factors Part III

Already I have posted about knowing whether or not you are starting your own gig for the right reasons, and knowing whether or not what you have is a product or a business.  Both of these items are critical to the success of any venture, but there is one factor that is at the top of my list of importance.  Talk to any other venture capitalist and they will tell you that the very first thing that they want to know about the investment opportunity is the management team.  I want to extend the axiom beyond simply those who are directly involved in the day to day operations of the business to the notion of the right team.

The right team is inclusive of your starters, your bench and your assistant coaches.  It’s important to understand that, from the first whistle, your starting team can get the points on the board, but the right team is what is going to get the points on the board during the fourth quarter.

Your management team (the starters) has to include folks that are also doing it for the right reason.  If they don’t share your passion for the product or service that you want to build your business around, then you have a problem.  In the early days of getting your company off the ground, you are no doubt going to be spending large amounts of time focused on the business, and without being surrounded by folks who can make decisions, and have the passion and drive to do the hours, you are going to hit a wall.  You simply can’t scale your available time.  Each of these folks should have complimentary skill sets to solve all of the problems that face a young company, but stack this team in favor of solving the problem of the actual product or service.

The worker bees (the bench) must also share your passion, but to a lesser extent.  You are going to need to surround yourself with people who can execute against your plan.  My experience has shown me that when you have too many people who are super passionate about a particular problem, you have a lot of “solutions” but not a lot of actual execution.  Worker bees tend to be a bit more steady and less volatile than passionate management.

The advisers (the assistant coaches) are some of the most important people that you probably didn’t think about asking to join your team.  My father once taught me one of the most important things I have ever learned.  He said, “son, you don’t need to always know the answer.  You just need to know where to look for the answer.”  Having industry veterans (where applicable and available) can certainly help shed some light on potential problems you may have with your business.  You should always think about how to approach people who might have relevant experience as potential advisers to your company.  Further, seeking individuals who have specific domain experience (lawyers, accountants, etc) will allow you to get your quick questions answered, most times for free, and save you a ton of time and frustration with issues that require professionals.

Key to hiring anyone who works with or for you is to seek those out who are smarter than you.  I have had the good fortune to have worked at Microsoft in its hay day, and was indoctrinated into their way of thinking as it pertained to hiring.  Always, ALWAYS, hire people smarter than you.  If you hire B team players, they will hire C team players, and you are in trouble.  In my experience as a board member and as senior management with startups, I have crossed paths with CEOs and managers who were more than happy to hire sycophantic workers who would yield to them.  It’s healthy to have employees push back on vision.  You, as the leader are there to provide it, but you must also know that you don’t know everything.  It’s OK to be the guy driving the bus, but don’t be afraid to accept directions.  That is why it is so important to hire people smarter than you.  You might actually learn something. 

The management team is very important.  Of that there is no doubt, but as an entrepreneur who is building a company, you cannot stop at just hiring the management team.  You have to think about the entire team that is going to get you through the fourth quarter, victorious.  The energy of your starters will electrify the crowds.  The rock solid play of your bench will keep you in the game when your starters get tired.  And the experience and training your assistant coaches bring to bear will provide the discipline to keep from making key fatal mistakes, especially at critical junctures.  Build the right team, and build it smart.