The success of any startup depends largely on its founding team. In fact, ‘not the right team’ is often cited as one the main reasons for startup failure. No wonder that startup accelerators, investors, strategic partners and customers are very interested in the background and dynamics of the founding team. So what are the key elements to take into account when building (or examining) an all-star startup team? It is an ‘equation’ of the following five C’s.
Building a startup is not easy. And finding the right co-founders is definitely a challenge. Based on over 15 years of experience in startup support, and several years of developing and running a business dating site aimed at supporting startups in finding the right co-founder, here’s my advice to support you in building your own startup dream team.
Whether you build a startup team with friends, (former) colleagues, members of your family or someone you happen to bump into, the same basic elements come into play when building a startup together. The following five C’s form the basis for any high-performing team.
Let’s briefly examine these elements one by one.
1. Complementary: be more than a collection of people
The best startup teams are made up of founders who complement each other. No real surprise there. A founding team with at least one technical specialist and a marketeer/commercial person is often considered to be a potential startup dream team. But a complementary founding team entails much more than professional skills, and product or industry knowledge. Diversity in personality traits is equally important, as is demonstrated by a growing number of studies on entrepreneurial team diversity and performance.
The added value of a complementary team constitutes the optimal use of the unique talents and traits of each individual founder. So, when building a startup team it is best to look at the complete set of competencies and characters, and how they match.
Also interesting to know. Some investors choose to solely invest in diverse founding teams with at least one female founder, though this is far from common practice.
2. Complete: all pieces of the puzzle fit together
When founders in a startup complement each other, it does not necessarily mean they have a ‘winning team’. Is the team also complete? A founding team that is complete should at least have the minimum set of competences needed to build and run the company and, of course, the products or services they provide. Sounds obvious, right? Well, next time you view a founding team, check the backgrounds of the founders and judge for yourself.
However, judging whether a startup team is complete is more easily said than done. The set of competences that a company needs differs depending on sector, product, service and stage of the business. In some cases, two founders can make up a (as good as) complete team. Other times, a larger team is needed.
But beware, a founding team can also be overcomplete. The larger the team, the greater the chance that some co-founders may not truly add (much) value. In large teams, roles are more likely to overlap, which increases the odds for conflict. Larger teams also lead to inefficiency and require more coordination. Studies show that three founders is the most optimum founding team size.
3. Compatible: one soul, one mind
Let’s assume that we are looking at a founding team that we deem complementary and complete. Are the founders also compatible? Do they share the same goals, ambitions, values and norms? These elements act as the glue that binds the founders. Whereas this all sounds very logical, you would be surprised to find how many founders simply overlook these matters when building their team, or worse, underestimate the importance of compatibility all together.
Not every startup entrepreneur wants to pursue world domination. Contributing to a sustainable food system may be the driving force of a business to one founder, whereas making it to the Quote 500 list as fast as possible may the driving force of your business partner. Are you a high or low risk taker? Will you reinvest all your profits or do you prefer paying out some dividend (to yourself)? What common factors do you look for in all your staff hires?
There is nothing wrong with some level of disagreement and possibly even some friction in the founding team. After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. But beware of founding teams that have not given any thought to these matters, or worse, avoid discussing them because it may harm the ‘relationship’ or ‘internal atmosphere’….a team break-up may just be round the corner.
4. Cooperative: teamwork makes the dream work
A cooperative mindset is a trait shared by all members in stellar startup teams. When others need help, every team member should be aware of those needs and be willing to provide support. Cooperative founders include each other when making key decisions and solving problems creatively. They also understand that having diverse opinions leads to optimal solutions and that utilizing each other’s strengths creates team synergy.
Effective collaboration is built on trust, respect and open communication. Each founder must always be allowed to speak his or her mind and feel comfortable doing so. It’s always the little things that lead to bigger problem. So, do not shy away from discussing small (personal) annoyances.
Cooperative founding teams also accept that mistakes will be made. It is also important that all team members have the ability to admit when they are wrong. To quote Patrick Lencioni: “When team members trust each other and know that everyone is capable of admitting when they’re wrong, then conflict becomes nothing more than the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.”
Remember, there is no ‘I’ in team. Hitting a milestone is an effort that all team members have contributed to, directly or indirectly. “There is no limit to what you can get done if you don’t care who gets credit for it.”
5. Committed: in for a penny, in for a pound
Are all founders equally committed to the startup? And to each other? High-performing teams are strongly committed to shared goals, strategies and the team. You do not turn your back on your co-founders in the face of conflict or in difficult times. In startup teams, solving problems and disagreements or, if possible, helping to prevent them should be a shared goal.
In committed founding teams, all co-founders are also equally involved and perform a proportional amount of work. Friction is bound to arise when individual contributions are insufficiently balanced. This makes a team ineffective and it is most likely to lead to poorer results.
Vitamin C for your agrifood startup team
In conclusion, the higher a founding team scores on the aforementioned 5 C’s, the better. At StartLife, we consider them to be the vitamin C for agrifoodtech startups. Startup teams with the right amount and mix of vitamin Cs will have all the energy and resilience they need to successfully build, run and grow their business.
I hope that these insights will be of help in ensuring you have the right team in place and have covered all team elements that come into play.
A few more reads and tools on (startup) teams:
- Book: The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. / Article: The Founder’s Dilemma. By professor Noam Wasserman
- Checklist: The Essential Startup Structuring Checklist
- Book: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Team Assessment, by Patrick Lencioni
- Inspiration: 31 Teamwork Quotes That Will Fire Up Your Team.
Are you looking for a co-founder for your agrifoodtech startup or interested in joining as partner? Let us know, we might be able to find a match for you.