Hiring a great team is one of the most difficult aspects of a technology startup. However, attracting the right people is not nearly as difficult as building an environment on which their talents can blossom and contribute to the company. Despite the hundreds of books written about team building, I still think there is no magic formula for assembling a great team. Having said that, I think the quickest path to build a spectacular team is to simply hire great people.
When thinking about the mechanics of building a great team, I can’t avoid tracing the parallel to the moneyball science. In its 2004 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, bestselling author Michael Lewis tell us the story of how the Oakland Athletics(OA) General Manager Billy Bean and a group of baseball enthusiasts applied an accounting method for assembling a baseball team. As a result, with a very small budget and using underrated players, the OA were able to win as many games as the top franchises and even make the playoffs.
While the moneyball science is based on factoring baseball elements such as home runs, stolen bases, hits, etc in a the software startup world we can apply a similar formula to build a great team. In my experience, a great team in a small software startup is a combination of factors such as talent, experience, passion, perspective and work ethic.
Even though is not an exact formula, you can use the following equation to relate to a great team.
Startup Team= %Talent + %Experience + % Perspective + %Passion + %Work Ethic
As a startup CEO, your job is not only to find the right combination of the aforementioned factors but to provide an environment on which they can nurture and applied to the productivity of the overall team. Let’s think about each factor individually.
In order to be successful, it is key for a startup to attract the right groups of talent. Whether you are referring to great programmers, analysts or business development people, having a uniquely talented staff will allow you to efficiently execute in your specific products or strategies.
How to nurture talent? : Skill is the natural complement of talent and the best way to nurture it. As a startup founder, make sure you are providing an environment and culture and that allows your team to acquire new skills to improve their talents. A classic example is facilitating your best programmers (talent) to learn and apply a new programming language (skill).
Regardless of how talented you are, there are things that manifest itself throug experience. Having experienced folks in staff helps the team to avoid common mistakes and to focus on the things that really matter.
How to nurture experience? : The best way to nurture experience is to surround your team with the right group of advisors that will help guide them through specific decisions. In that dynamic, the less experienced team members will quickly be exposed to a new pool of wisdom based on the experiences of the other folks.
Talent and experience are not everything. When facing specific circumstances, there are people that have the ability of thinking outside the box and trace parallels to examples of different industries, different times in history or complete different subjects. I like to refer to that skill as perspective and, arguably, is the hardest talent to find and nurture in startup
How to nurture perspective? : Knowledge is the natural ingredient to broaden people’s perspective. Some people acquire knowledge by reading books, others prefer to constantly talk or interact with more experienced people, other prefers to travel, etc. Regardless of the method you use, providing the right channels to acquire more knowledge will broaden the different perspectives from which your team can assess a particular situation.
Passion fuels all the other aspects of a startup. Being passionate about a problem, a product or a specific goal will make people go to the extra mile to accomplish a specific objective. Differently from talent, experience and perspective; passion is highly contagious and it quickly changes people’s attitude towards a specific circumstances.
How to nurture passion? : Passion nurtures itself. As a startup founder, make sure you are giving your most passionate people the right space to leverage their talents and to influence the rest of the team. Also make sure you are getting rid of all obstacles that can affect your team’s passions.
You can’t build a successful software business working 8 hrs a day, it just doesn’t happen. Having a strong work ethic, making the right sacrifices and being a team player are essential ingredients to succeed as a software startup.
How to nurture work ethic? : Lead by example! Make sure your most hardworking people have the opportunity to mentor and influence the rest of the team. From time to time, I find it useful to run a few sprints and fight a few fires that test and train the work ethics of the team.