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The Keys to a Strong Startup Team

By LaunchX Team

February 24, 2021

When we think about the people behind successful companies like Facebook and Tesla, the first names that come to mind are Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. The media tends to portray these CEOs as individuals who run the show with a billion-dollar idea. However, it is essential to recognize that it takes a cohesive team to build a successful company.

At LaunchX, team dynamics are one of the most important parts of our entrepreneurial culture, so we focus on the keys to a strong startup team. Usually, students are both anxious and excited about the teaming process long before they actually arrive at LaunchX. From the day admissions decisions are released to the day that teams are finalized, students bombard LaunchX team with questions about how we form teams.

This post will attempt to explain the complex process and important considerations we take when forming teams. Unfortunately, there is no secret recipe or fail-proof algorithm to build perfect teams. It’s always a case-by-case situation. It takes a combination of factors, one of the most important of which is your mindset.  We do an intense amount of analysis on the factors that go into teaming success to help in the process.

There are many components that are taken into consideration to increase the chances of LaunchX team alignment and success, including complementary skills and personalities, plus similar drives, interests, and time zones. These are assessed across factors from the application, pre-work, and input from students on peers they may be interested in working with.

What are the keys to a strong startup team?

  1. Similar drive and vision – this is the most important factor
  2. Shared passion for the problem the team is working on – this will come from the above
  3. Variety of experience, perspectives, and qualifications
  4. Complementary range of skill sets and personalities

Drive and Vision

The most important factor to teaming is to have similar drive and vision.  By similar drive, we mean having similar motivations for starting a company, plus similar intention of commitment to the startup.  This is important in order to be aligned on the time being spent and the direction that the company may go in the near and long term.  If one person has a motivation of high-tech innovation, serial entrepreneurship, and expects to work on the startup a few hours a week, while another person is interested in driven by building community, wants to build a scalable business, and expects to commit at least ten hours per week, then there will be challenges within the team regardless of other factors being aligned. The person of higher commitment may get frustrated at the person of lower commitment, while the person who wants innovation may think things aren’t moving quickly enough, or countless other challenges.

Passion

It’s important to love what you do! The foundation of any good team is to be truly united behind a shared mission and vision for what change you want to see in the world. We assess this based on how students describe the problems they seek to solve during their pre-work, though you can also get a better understanding of this for yourself by asking yourself where you want your startup and team to be in several years.  The team needs to be aligned on their long-term vision and the “why” behind their goals.  This allows them to find the right offerings for their customers.

Experience, Perspective, and Qualifications

Every year, we are extremely impressed by the caliber of our applicants and students. These students have pushed themselves outside their comfort zone in a variety of other ways: founding organizations and events, competing at the world robotics championship, building top-selling apps, and more. Having co-founders of a similar caliber of accomplishment but different specifics of the experience and perspective is helpful to have a well-rounded team.  There is a saying that if everyone in the team is always agreeing, then not everyone is needed.  Productive disagreements are valuable to ensure that the team is considering the different paths, so having different perspectives based on a variety of backgrounds adds value to the team.

Skills

We ask LaunchX students to self-identify as Builders, Branders, Business Developers, or Brains. You can learn more about these entrepreneurial types through this post.  There is no perfect team, so not all teams will have all four entrepreneurial types, and there may be advantages to having more of one entrepreneurial type.  For example, more of a “brain” type may allow a team to focus on problems and solutions that are more operationally-focused, while a team with more business developers may consider developing a platform that lends itself to needing more sales and commercialization.

Sometimes, students have a false perception of the need for a builder and brander as a core member of the founding team. Even app-based or web-based start-ups often only need wireframes to develop their early proof of concept. Teammates can always be brought on later to advance product development with a more refined vision.

We also recognize that each person may have some cross-functionality.  It will ultimately still be up to each team to get to know one another’s skills to best be able to determine the right opportunity that optimizes their passions and skills with market potential.

Personality

We’ve all been in that situation when multiple type-A personalities cannot stop butting heads. There is a fine line between being assertive about ideas and trying to force ideas on each other. At LaunchX, we try to have rational, compassionate, and strategic personalities working together to connect the big picture. As a team with a common goal, we can work out tactical next steps, communicate well with customers and each other, and balance planning with action.  This takes a balance of personalities, but it also takes approaching the team with the right mindset of open-mindedness.  Many students that come to LaunchX are high achievers, which means that they hold themselves and others to high expectations, and holding their teammates to the specific standards they would have of their own work isn’t necessarily fair.  Launchies all hold themselves to high standards and need to trust each other to do great work.

How does LaunchX support our teams?

Formation is only the beginning of creating a positive team dynamic. As mentioned, there are many more keys to a strong startup team. To help teams work through conflicts and other minor issues, LaunchX staff hold check-ins with each team, discussing decision making, working styles, and more. Stay tuned to learn about the progress of our teams!

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