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The key people you need in your founding team

The key people you need in your founding team
The key people you need in your founding team

When you hear startup success stories, you usually hear about a founding team composed of one person and a laptop or one person and their roommate ready to change the world. But is that really the recipe for success? Who do you need on a founding team? Let’s take a closer look and find out. 

Who can start a startup? 

The simple answer is - anybody! Anybody can have an awesome idea and a vision. You don’t need a degree or to come from a particular background to start and own a successful business.

But you do need the right mindset. If you don’t have the right mindset to see it through, your startup will fail before it ever gets off the ground.

And that’s why it can be helpful to have a co-founder. The right co-founder is a true asset because your strengths and weaknesses should balance each other out.

For example, let’s say that you’re great at coming up with ideas but not so great at taking risks, interacting with people, or pitching your idea to investors. 

That’s going to be a serious problem for a startup founder running things on their own. But let’s say you bring someone else on board - someone bold and outgoing who excels at all the things you struggle with.

All of those traits are fantastic but they might lack the patience, introspection, and unique perspective that you bring to the table. On your own, each of you may struggle to manage a successful startup. But together, you can cover all bases.

Why you need to know who you are

We’ve touched on some of the characteristics of a successful founding team, but what does that look like in practice? How do you decide who’s the CEO and who’s the co-founder? Believe it or not, one of the first and most important lessons is not to get hung up on labels. 

It’s easy to assume that the person who had the idea for the company should be the one calling all the shots. But in reality, that’s not always the best or most realistic fit. Something Etsy’s founder Rob Kalin knew all too well.

Sure, it would be cool to say you’re the ‘founder and CEO’ of a company and to be the one calling all the shots, but in reality, your personality may not be right for that role. 

If you’re not happier when you’re taking risks, if you don’t have a talent for convincing people to hop on board the rocket you're about to launch, then CEO is neither the best use of your talents nor the most fulfilling role for you. So, no matter who you are in a founding team, no matter what your role is, knowing yourself is critical.

Vestd's founder, Ifty Nasir, suggests writing down the values you want the business to embody and then choosing your top three core values. Your potential partner could become the steward for the rest.

Who makes up a founding team? 

Putting roles and labels aside, let’s take a closer look at the necessary characteristics of the members of a founding team. Naval Ravikant, co-founder and CEO of AngelList observes that two is often the magic number for a founding team. 

So, while it’s possible for one person - or a group of three - to be successful founders, it's unlikely.

In Ravikant’s experience, three-person founding teams can often be unstable with two members ganging up on one another to force their own agenda or one person dominating the other two. 

Tom Blomfield, the co-founder of GoCardless and Monzo, started a company at university with 14 co-founders (yes, you read that right).

Blomfield acknowledged that was probably 11 people too many: “Figuring out that core team I think is really, really important to get right, and having a group of 14 is not the way to do it really!”

Though, a solo founder runs the risk of being myopic and, if left unchecked, running their own business into the ground. So some solo founders choose to lean on advisors or investors on the sidelines for support, guidance and industry insight.

But to get the business off the ground you need to think about the next key hires. It doesn’t really matter who has which traits or what labels you assign to each other, but you need a team with a healthy blend of these:

  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Product
  • Strategy
  • Technical expertise

Someone has to build your product and keep the entire operation running smoothly. Someone has to be good at managing your company’s finances. Someone has to think up a strategy with one eye on the market and the other on competitors.

You need customer success champions to serve your customers and provide as much value as possible.

And don’t be fooled - marketing goes far beyond a simple ad campaign. You don’t need a flashy PR agency (at least not yet); you just need someone to develop your company’s unique positioning - that special spark that sets you apart.

So your list of key hires to recruit next might look a little something like this:

  • Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or Chief Engineer
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Marketing Manager
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Business Development Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Customer Service Manager

How to develop your founding team

There’s no doubt about it - starting your own business is scary. It’s a brave, wonderful, but risky adventure and if you want to succeed, you need the right team to support you. 

It’s tempting to try and do things all on your own but the truth is that no one can be good at everything. No one is an island. Starting a business with the help of a team isn’t about giving up power or control; it’s about gaining support. 

When you develop a founding team, you’re gaining the benefit of other people’s skills and perspectives, and that can only be a good thing - provided that they also share your values and ethics

So, when you develop your founding team, look for people who are driven, talented, and ambitious - but also honest, loyal people with integrity. Look for people who balance you out, who share your vision, and who will help you be the best version of yourself. 

And remember that finding the perfect team member doesn’t mean that your startup will be perfect. At some point in your journey together, you will likely clash on something. You may have very different ideas. But conflict doesn’t always mean that person is a bad fit for your team. 

Sometimes, each of you will need to be challenged and pushed outside your comfort zone. Sometimes you will need to take risks or see something from another person’s perspective.

Speaking of conflict, disagreements on equity splits can derail a startup. Fair equity agreements can fix that. With our Agile Partnerships framework, everyone knows what's expected of them and the equity rewards they'll receive. 

And as long as you share a sense of mutual respect for each other and your startup, you can grow together and create something incredible. 

Starting a business? There's no time like the present. Set up your company via Vestd today and get access to valuable tools and resources too.

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