Team I: Building Your Initial Team
So far, we’ve covered the core of what makes your business unique externally: what you sell and how you get it in front of people.
Next, we’ll be shifting focus to what makes your business unique internally—starting with your team.
Arguably the most important decision you make starting a company is whom you decide to build it with. These are the people who join your team for large amounts of equity, often before you’re able to pay any salary.
There’s a LOT to unpack here, so I’ll dive right in, in bullet form:
1. A co-founder should complement, not duplicate, your own skills. They should make the difference between your business getting off the ground or not, and they should be among the best people you know with skills you lack.
2. A co-founder should have a do-whatever-it-takes attitude. This goes for picking up new skills and responsibilities outside their background but also for doing the dirty work that might not be enjoyable.
3. A co-founder should have compatible, not identical, personalities and work styles. You don’t need to like all the same things or be best friends outside of work. But you should keep in mind that you’ll be sharing many meals, long car rides, and late nights with this human being, and these are much more bearable when you actually like each other.
4. Co-founder status should not be granted by virtue of being there at the beginning. Just because someone was there early doesn’t mean they have the right skills or maturity to be a co-founder. This can lead to very difficult conversations, but avoid them at your peril.
5. Above all else—and this, too, is often forgotten—your co-founder should be an absolute emotional rock. They, like you, will need to absorb a great deal of rejection and uncertainty, and you need to know you can be open about making major changes or about people’s performance without causing panic.
Generally, your first few employees should look much more like co-founders than the employees of large companies. The difference is that they will expect to be paid, and with very little funds at your disposal, you have to be extremely deliberate about how you build your team:
1. Growers. Hire young, inexperienced people who you think can learn fast and be top-notch executors. You’ll deal with many more mistakes and hand-holding and probably more hires that don’t work out, but typically, people will be very loyal and substantially more affordable. You’ll need to do much more “managing” in this scenario, so you’ll have less time to execute yourself in any given area.
2. Veterans. Hire a smaller number of the best, most experienced people you can to completely own different functions, freeing you and your co-founders to execute on your own areas of expertise (vs spending time managing). This can require more funding or risk to your runway, but it can allow you to move faster.
3. Remotes. Hire people from around the country—or the world—to widen your talent pool and arbitrage the cost of labor. Not being co-located with your team in the early stages has many downsides, but this is exactly the kind of chicken-egg hack that is sometimes necessary to get off the ground.
4. Contractors and Freelancers. Contractors and freelancers can play a very impactful role to fill short-term or more variable needs or even as a way to test out a new role. You need to pay extra attention to holding contractors accountable, but if you get proficient at managing them, it can be a superpower for taking on projects that your team doesn’t have the bandwidth for.
These frameworks are not black and white, and there are an infinite number of permutations mixing and matching each one. Regardless of how you structure your team, always remember this: The most important investment someone ever makes in your company is the one your team makes with their time.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how you generate a return on that investment and help your team become the best versions of themselves.
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