Especially in the early stages of startup life, the hours are long, the challenges are constant, and you will find yourself in the company of a few other people who you will work with every day with the goal of “getting the ship to port.” This initial founding team is the anchor of every startup, and is what will ultimately determines its destiny.
In my experience as an entrepreneur, I have found the following traits to be attributable to an unstoppable founding team, and I would highly recommend company leaders take a realistic and hard look at their team dynamics to better equip themselves for success.
1. Lean and mean team
Large companies can afford to have some overlapping skill sets, albeit not ideal, but it happens all the time. In startups, every member is so important and ultimately has a tremendous impact on the company’s growth. Therefore, not only does everyone need to be solid and a master in their field, but they need to be very resourceful.
Team members also bring different personality traits to the table, and great founding teams are able to counter-balance each other. The overly optimistic needs to be kept in check by the realist, and the always serious needs to be lightened up by the one with a sense of humor.
2. Supportive and collaborative mentality
A great founding team is good at communicating to each other, and does so constantly. It is important to always know what the rest of the team is doing and how one can best assist the others to bring all efforts full circle. Especially when times are tough and things are not going according to plan, the communication needs to be brutally honest, but within the context and commitment of working out the problem areas.
3. Unified Vision
As Simon Sinek eloquently explains in his TED Talk, great companies can say why they do what they do, rather than just what they are doing or how they are doing it. Promising founding teams, similarly, can articulate the bigger vision that drives them and have a shared, long term vision of their direction. Startup life isn’t for everybody, and you can easily weed out those who are simply looking for a paycheck from those who would truly be a great fit to take along for the ride.
4. Have skin in the game
The best results are most often produced when there is something major to loose, so up the ante. Founding teams should have something of value on the line, whether it be their reputation, money or major sacrifices made. When the stakes are high, people push harder and creative juices flow.
5. Inspiring leadership skills
It takes more than just an unstoppable founding team to turn a startup into a meaningful company. As Mikkel Svane, founder & CEO of Zendesk, says, a startup is very much like a child. “The first year or two, when you are bootstrapping and it’s only you and a few founders, and it can basically break apart all the time, it’s like having a kid. You need to give them freedom, you need to trust them and you need to trust the company…” Ultimately, a founding team’s ability to enroll others in that vision is critical, as you can leverage everybody’s collective intellectual knowledge and work towards a common goal.