Building a team, part deux…..
I have said this in the past and I cannot stress enough the importance of founders taking time and care when picking their team, whether co-founders, employees or interns. Your company-in-the-making is your baby and you would not leave your baby with just anybody. If you would, you don’t need to be a parent or an entrepreneur.
So what should you look for in a teammate? You say it all depends because you may be a developer looking for a business co-founder or you may be an MBA looking for a tech co-founder. But, there are certain things that you should look for no matter what function you want this person to perform.
- 1. You want someone who understands your vision. Not just your product or service but your vision of where you are going to be five or ten years down the road. And not just to sit and nod as you talk about it. You want someone who can sit down and map out the five year plan for your vision as well as you would.
- 2. You want someone who fills in your knowledge or skills gaps. If you are bringing a person on to fill a gap in your skills set, like marketing, you need to see what they have done and ask a friend or mentor in that area what they think of this person’s work. A potential teammate doesn’t need to know everything, but you want to make sure they have a base of knowledge and the enthusiasm for the subject matter to learn what they need to know.
- 3. You want someone who is willing to be vetted and tested. I have talked to many entrepreneurs stuck with the partner from hell because the partner took offense to being questioned about their background and skills and the entrepreneur didn’t want to hurt their feelings. If they don’t want to be tested and vetted, they don’t understand the how to build a team and importance of a good team mix. They are not for you.
- 4. When vetting a potential teammate, vet their personal life too. If you are doing the vetting correctly, you will ask everyone, male and female, the same questions. Being a teammate takes a lot of time and energy and often means that family is put on the backburner for a time. You need to know if your teammate’s family/significant other/etc. can handle that lack of attention.
- 5. Having friend and/or family as co-founders is a risky move, particularly when things are not going well. It can destroy your personal relationship and your business relationship, and every founder needs a cheering section with no ulterior motive than caring for him/her to be happy for him/her. If you must have one of them on the founding team, make sure you sit down prior to starting and have clear, frank discussions about what happens when the personal relationship interferes with the business relationship. Make sure you talk about clear paths to resolving issues and contingency plans for having one of you exit the business.
- 6. Always, always, always get any teammate, yourself included, to sign non-disclosure, confidentiality and assignment agreements. This includes folks who are volunteering their time and interns. Intellectual property belongs to he who created it unless there is an agreement in place assigning it to the company. And it is essential that IP get assigned to the company to give the company control over its products, revenues and value. If someone balks at signing this basic agreement, no matter how wonderful they are, let them go. They are not worth the risk.
Don’t rush into this relationship. Take your time and make sure you KNOW what you are getting in to. Building a team is the most important thing you will do when starting your company. Just look at the European Union if you don’t believe me. Don’t make the same mistakes.
For more, read The Founder’s Dilemma.