How to Build a Winning Team for Your Startup
The human story critical to building successful companies
The vast majority of startup founders are brilliant minds with a million ideas on how to change the world and brains that map out that perfect product that’ll take the world by storm. Why then do most startups fail? Well, if your startup scales through the hurdle of creating something with a real-world market need and is able to secure funding, the most critical make-or-break factor you must consider is the team. As they say, no man is an island, or in Africa, “a hut does not make a village”. No matter how brilliant the founder is, they need a solid, dependable, capable, and performing team to take their dreams from their mind to full realization. I have been working as a freelance content specialist, writer, business developer, and community manager for the past 10 years, and here are a few things I believe most startups need to have figured out regarding their teams to have the best chances of success;
Our minds as individuals are fickle by nature. We might prefer A this morning and then suddenly not feel like it by noon. As a founder, your organization will most likely fail if you run it based on your day-to-day likes and dislikes. As people uproot their lives, pitch their tents with your company, and stake their livelihoods and futures with you, they’d much rather prefer to be doing all these things in pursuit of a grand clearly-spelled-out idea, not a fickle personality. Defining what your company stands for, very early on, is a hyper-persuasive selling point that attracts the best talent. Is your company one that embraces diversity in the real sense? Do you have classes/castes within your workforce or is everyone compensated based on the value they bring to the table rather than where they come from, the color of their skin, or their gender? People generally accept that startup life is one with a million dangers and unforeseen circumstances, and they are okay with that. However, what talented people will never stand is an erratic workplace culture that fundamentally disturbs their mental health. Figure this out and you are off to a great start!
Trust Your Team
It is perfectly natural as a founder to feel that you have the most stake in your startup and as such, care about it more than anyone else on the team. This should not degenerate into unprovoked mistrust of the people you employ. As you are in the early stages of your business journey, a lot of things are yet to be clearly defined, which means that it will take time to figure things out with yourself and your team. As you assign tasks, follow up on them, discuss, and make comp payments to your team for work done, you must by all means avoid coming off as mistrusting to your people. Even when something is not clear to you, or when you have a strong feeling that your employee is not being transparent at any given time, find subtle ways to investigate without tipping them off. Get your facts straightened out before taking it up with them. Chances are you are wrong and there is a perfectly simple explanation for whatever it is you are suspecting. Bluntly pointing fingers will not only make your team question your judgment, but it will also demoralize them and have them questioning if your startup is the right career move for them and that will be the beginning of your undoing. The great thing is that MOST people that choose a career at a startup are thinking long-term, with your company being their big ticket in life. Therefore, they are the least likely to do anything malicious against your company. Take things easy, learn to trust, be subtle with your investigations, and gently ask for clarifications where necessary, your team will not only grow to respect you, they’ll actually fall in love with you.
Always Be Humane
Your team is human at its core. As your team rolls up its sleeves and gets into the nitty-gritty fight to make a product fly, life happens from time to time to individuals in your team. When someone has a curve ball thrown at them that affects their output, however critical that output may be, be humane. The way you react to personal disasters will not only be carefully monitored by the individual in focus but it will also be witnessed by your wider team. If you are empathetic, and understanding, and help the entire team navigate this personal tragedy in the best possible way without throwing the afflicted person under the bus, this empathy will be repaid a millionfold with team loyalty and inspired output by the person once they are able to get back to work.
I’ve talked about how important it is for your startup to define the core constituting ideas it stands for at the beginning of this piece, this does not let you off the hook as a founder. You are most likely the enforcing authority that makes sure your company culture gets upheld, make sure that your employees see you as reliable and consistent in this regard. Practice what you preach is what I am saying here, as people will trust you more and believe that you will uphold your organization’s lofty ideals even when they are not looking.
Don’t Cage Them
Startups have no guarantee of success, but people at all times have guaranteed commitments to themselves and their families. As you attract talent, ensure that people perceive your organization as an enabling environment rather than a stifling prison. If someone has a side hustle that allows them to pay the bills, as long as it remains a side thing and doesn’t affect the output you require of them, allow them to keep it. When you begin demanding that employees completely and irrevocably uproot their lives when you cannot guarantee sufficient compensation in the short-term or success in the long run, know that you might be asking too much and that could be the beginning of the unraveling of your dream team. Let the work being done, the milestones being achieved, and the synergy within your team persuade people to willingly let go of their old lives as they build a new one with you. If you push too hard too fast, you will end up grappling with the notorious employee turnover and you really don’t want that for your business.
Hire Talent not Bodies
A startup’s time is always short and its budget never enough, you, therefore, need to make the best of what you have to get the results you want. To effectively do this, you want the most talented team on your side, not filler bodies that make your organization look busy without helping you achieve anything real. The kind of talent I am talking about is not just fellow dreamers with grand ideas, but doers, generals, and foot soldiers who are ready to roll up their sleeves jump into the gutters, execute real stuff for the team, and continually push the project forward. Some startups make the mistake of going too cheap by hiring people with no qualifications or visible track record of work just to keep costs down. This only cost you more in time and also peaks the suspicion of the few actually talented people within your ranks that you are more interested in good PR and looking super busy than actually getting things done.
Respect Valid Feedback
A startup’s journey is not set in stone, once you strike out make a point of keeping your mind open to hearing the exact opposite of what you think or feel on matters. Keeping an active feedback loop with your team will help you get the necessary early warning signs and also encourages creativity to blossom within your team. Feedback is not an attack on your person or the invalidation of your originality, it is a necessary part of the journey of achieving real success. There are founders that begin with one idea, face hurdles along the way, and with an open feedback channel were able to create entirely new companies solving real problems and making very real money completely separate from the original concept. You must not hold too tightly to your initial ideas, be ready to spot opportunities, validate them, and pivot on the go, this will only be possible if your team knows your ears are open and your mind susceptible to high-quality feedback.
Your Startup is Human
Navigating the minefield that is forging a successful startup is not for the faint-hearted. Your brilliant product idea is only as good as the millions that preceded it, ideas that ultimately died without coming to fruition. Your team is an invaluable asset and ally on your journey to making your dream a reality. If I had a quarter for every founder I’ve worked with who did not understand the critically important human aspect of team building i’d have accumulated a little fortune by now. Your startup is a company, your idea a concept, what brings these two things together and builds something out of it is the rag-tag band that you’re able to bootstrap financially and more importantly emotionally to take you to the finish line. Build yourself a reputation for people management, and your fountain of talent will never run dry. Best of luck!
My name is Usman Salis, a pro content writer/strategist, and active community builder and manager. I have worked with over 2000 businesses over the past decade on Fiverr, Upwork, and off-platform and helped them build formidable content that builds presence and traffic with incredible conversion rates. If there’s something I can help you with your business, team, or company, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org