Picking your Startup Team (Founder Dynamics)

When launching your technology startup, the people you choose as your co-founders is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. There are many things to consider when picking the players for your team. For one thing, you have to like your co-founders and enjoy being around them. One of the quickest ways to get burned out in a new startup is by picking co-founders you can’t stand to work with. The second thing to consider is the skills they offer and how they complement the team. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the key considerations to think about when forming a team around your new startup.

Should you go it alone?

In most cases, the answer is no. For one thing, there is just too much to do when building a successful technology startup. Source code needs to be written, products need to be built, quality tests need to be performed, business plans need to be created, marketing materials need to be developed, customers need to be contacted, and investors need to be pitched. Even if you are the rare breed who brings the perfect blend of strong developer chops, marketing savvy, and business development charisma, there just isn’t enough time in the day for all of these things to get done, and if they are getting done by one person, query how well.

Aside from the fact that a startup founder needs to wear more hats than one head can possibly fit, being a lone wolf will say a lot of things about you (especially to potential investors), most of which may carry a negative connotation. It might be wondered aloud whether you are flying solo because you don’t work well with others, or because you can’t get anyone else as excited about your idea as you are.

Finding Complementary Skill Sets

Whether it’s sports or startups, the best teams are the ones where all of the players’ skills complement each other’s. Just like a basketball team doesn’t need five players who only shoot three pointers but can’t play a lick of defense, a startup doesn’t need five guys who can write killer code but who, in the words of Gordon Gekko, don’t know preferred stock from livestock. The most successful founding teams for technology startups typically consist of people who bring a blend of great product development skills (to build the product), business development skills (to sell the product); public speaking skills (to pitch the company to potential investors); financial acumen (to make sure there is enough financial runway to achieve value-increasing goals, that taxes and bills are getting paid, etc.); and ability to pay attention to the more mundane (to ensure that proper records are being kept).

Where to Meet Other Co-Founders

Putting together a dream team of skill sets on paper is the easy part. Actually finding these people can be a bit trickier. If you currently work at a technology company, you may be surrounded by potentially dozens of candidates who have the skill sets you desire to build around, but unless you have a close personal relationship with those people, you might not trust sharing information about your next big idea with them. Fortunately, in the Seattle area there is a vibrant startup ecosystem with a number of groups, meet-ups and events that you can join to find other likeminded individuals who might want to join your company. Just a few of the many examples include Seattle Tech Meetup, various “open coffees” in Seattle and the Eastside, and organizations like Startup Weekend – which puts on several events per year where you can meet and work with potential co-founders.

Finding the right combination of skill sets to propel your startup can be tricky, but it is important to critically evaluate your own skill set and determine where your strengths and limitations are. Then, aim to build your team with players who complement those strengths and deficiencies. If you are having trouble finding the right co-founders, get out of your comfort zone a little bit and attend some of the many technology focused events around the region. After all, every time you “pitch” your new idea to a potential co-founder, you are articulating your company’s value proposition and where it fits in the market place. There is also a good chance that a potential co-founder will ask you questions or challenge assumptions that you’ve never considered, all of which are good for refining your company’s product or service offerings and your future pitches to investors and customers.