This week I was thinking a lot about what makes a great startup team. So many of the “lists” that come out try to identify what “not” to do in a startup and the 10 reasons why startups fail. A lot of times, these lists focus on the product – explaining that the startup failed because the product was too complicated, or too simple, or just didn’t make sense. However, I think another key reason that we need to address is the element and influence of the initial team, the first key hires that you make as a startup.
Rather than give my thoughts, I’d like to point to you to a really awesome post that Charlie O’Donnell wrote on the subject. His blog post Minimum Viable Team is a complete breakdown of every conceivable role you think you would need, and then he slowly eliminates each role that you don’t really need to get to a Minimum Viable Product. This method of slowly showing you what you can take away is truly insightful. The net result is a set of three roles that Charlie identifies as the key functions that you need to get to launch. Here are the roles and my take on each …
1) Outside Person … this person is responsible for everything that is not related to building the product or defining the consumer experience. So, they take on the role of forming relationships with all outsiders for the purposes of hiring, business development, public relations, sales, marketing, operations, etc. Charlie’s argument is that at such an early stage, you just don’t need these functions in house. I completely agree.
2) Consumer Experience … this person is traditionally known as a “designer”, but they are SO MUCH more than that! This person goes beyond just “making it pretty”. Instead, they are a delicate balance of right brain and left brain. They understand enough technology that they can talk intelligently with developers and discuss key userflows, database challenges, and tricky workflows. They live and breathe human behavior and have a sixth sense for getting inside the head of the consumer. Finally, of course, they design – both for interaction and visual. They don’t have to be the Picasso of everything, but the total package of their skillset is what you’re looking for because after your MVP is out, you can then refine and really polish design etc.
3) Builder … this speaks for itself. You need an amazing technologist / engineer who can get stuff done, but also, like the designer, has a well rounded balance for human behavior. They need to be able to use technology not for the sake of technology, but instead for creating a great customer experience.
Here’s a link to the entire article by Charlie, Minimum Viable Team. As well, you might also be interested in this thread on Quora that debates whether or not you should hire an amazing designer or a product engineer first.