To set the tone, let me share my experience of being among the founding members of a travel business a decade ago, which was more of a lifestyle business in startup style. However, the challenges of building a team were similar to that of a startup, from the decision to be proprietary or to find partners who share a common goal, reaching out to mentors, finding strategic partners, hiring a team, and taking a call to outsource certain tasks. If I look at it now, one of our fallacies that kept us from scaling up fast had been to try and do everything ourselves, without outsourcing anything . Though the business was a success and is still running but it could not reach the zenith it could have been.
Building a team is a major challenge for an entrepreneur who is doing it for the first time. It’s like building something from scratch. A team-based approach is the key. How to do it and what steps to follow is something I will talk about here.
Finding a Co-Founder
There are very few successful businesses who made it big with a single founding member. Apple may be known for Steve Jobs but Steve Wozniak’s technical knowledge and engineering expertise took it off the ground. In Indian context, the examples of successful businesses like Make My trip, Lava and Ola tells us the tale. It is the many people bringing in multiple skillsets which help to lay a strong foundation and thus a better chance to succeed.
To find a co-founder for your startup, start with a realistic assessment of yourself. No one is good at everything, so diving deep within, finding what your best skills are and looking for someone with complementary skills. Some look among family and friends but it is better to go beyond and cast a wider net. Use your network, Linkedin and other services on the web to find the people who want to do what you want to do but with the skills which you don’t possess.
Mentors & Advisors
Mentors and Advisors are someone who breathe life into the Startup. They are ones who will show you the mirror and where you are headed. It’s important to build a network of Mentors and Advisors. Incubators and accelerators have a pool of mentors for you to get associated with. At Espark-Viridian, apart from the pool of mentors there is a set of Enablers who become a mirror to the entrepreneurs and help them make better decisions. However, you could also look from your own network or reach out to industry experts to build a board of advisors. Experts say that it is good to have a mix of the following three people as part of your board:
– A successful entrepreneur, someone who has successfully run a startup before.
– A subject matter expert, who knows the business and could act as a strategic partner.
– A money person, who may have access to people who invest when you need capital to grow.
Identifying Positions & Roles
Building a team requires planning when you have defined what the business would be. It is recommended to create a detailed organisational chart even if there are only 2 people in order to know what the key roles are and who will be doing what. Early on, it will be the owners and partners in the organisational chart and it is important to have an honest and complete conversation around roles and responsibilities and who will be in charge. Experts recommend documenting everything and spelling it out when there is no revenue and debt rather than when the stakes are higher.
Once you have a team based approach to launch your startup, outsourcing really helps even if it comes with a cost. There are limited hours in a day and if you try to do everything yourself, you may not be hitting the potential of networking and business development for your startup. In my experience at the travel business, doing everything which could be possibly outsourced really made us pay the opportunity cost of missing what we could do best in business development and thus, scalability. So think of the services which you could outsource, be it legal, financial, design, marketing etc.
Somewhere when you start growing, one has to take a leap of faith and hire. It is recommended to consider options beyond hiring permanent staff first. There are ways to work with people like freelancers, contractors or strategic partnerships on equity sharing.
However, hiring permanent staff cannot be eliminated as you grow further. At the start, it’s better to hire generalists who can do multiple things and add on specialists later who do only one thing.
All the above is not something to advocate a particular strategy as every startup is different as per the type of business and needs at different stages. However, no matter what the strategies would be, a team based approach makes you sail through fast and build a successful business.
“The most important thing for you as an entrepreneur trying to build something is, you need to build a really good team. And that’s what I spend all my time on” – Mark Zuckerberg