The keys to building successful startup teams

Last week Fortify founder, Paul Musters gave a presentation to the Antler  cohort in Amsterdam about what it takes to build a successful startup team.  His presentation covered many aspects including the 5 reasons for  dysfunctional teams, psychological safety and more. Here are some of the  biggest takeaways we found.


Hayden Young

Paul's company specializes in "building the teams and company culture to  realize entrepreneurial dreams" - and they're good at it too. They've created  winning teams at over 200 startups by posing key questions to entrepreneurs  that they should reflect on when choosing who to join up with. These questions  among other things are designed to help them decide if the energy and  motivations are a match. The first being Paul's Golden Rule:

"Is this person an energy gainer or energy drainer to me?"

 This question is one that he advises asking yourself every day when it comes  to your co-founder. Can you see yourself delight in being around this person  almost every day for the next 5 years or more? Do they make you feel energized  and motivated or lackadaisical and slow? Put it this way:

 Imagine you had a date with your perfect counterpart on paper. They are well  educated, like to travel, beautiful and sporty. They check all the boxes for  you initially but after talking for 5 minutes the conversation becomes silent.  For some reason, there is no chemistry.

 Now you can keep analyzing why this happened, or try to adjust your behavior.  But if no genuine attraction arises, there must be a reason for that. It works  exactly the same when looking for a co-founder. You might find someone who  studied at Stanford, brings working experience from Tesla, Google and NASA,  has all the necessary skills to build a great product. But if you don't match,  your collaboration probably ends up there.

 Luckily there is an easy solution: Learn to listen to your gut-feeling, trust  your intuition.

 CB Insights found that in 2018, 32% of companies failed because there was a  lack of motivation and common vision among the team, 9% fail because of a lack  of passion and 13% due to founder disharmony. Meaning over 50% of startups  fail because the teams behind them should never have been working together in  the first place. If the person(s) in question is draining your energy then  your motivation is going right along with it.

Avoid these energy vampires.

 Paul went on to pose some more questions to ask yourself about your potential  team members:

 "Do I see passion in their eyes when we talk about our entrepreneurial  dreams?"

"Can we trust each other to help each other during a hard time?"

 Some of these may seem trivial but he argues that they are important to ask  yourself. If you come up with the wrong answer then you simply aren't  interested in the person. In a business case this is usually because their  motivations and energy focus are not aligned with yours and therefore the  partnership probably isn't meant to be.

Speaking of motivation. The second major question to ask yourself is:

"What drives your co-founder?"

 Harvard Professor Noam Wasserman wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review  titled "The Founder's Dilemma" in which he highlights the main motivations for  founders:

  • Being an Entrepreneur
  • Financial Gain
  • Problem-Driven
  • Solution-Driven
  •  You may be quick to assume that every entrepreneur is in the game to make  loads of cash but the figures contradicting this may surprise you. The  majority of founders actually take an equal or sometimes even lesser salary to  that of their employees. Noam highlights that this figure is at roughly 51% of  all start-ups. The reason being, they are so attached to seeing their company  work they are willing to take less in order to achieve their goals. Given  that, money can not always be their primary motivation.

    So what are their motivations then?

     Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress. Working hard  for something we love is called passion.

     Well, there can be numerous reasons for what drives people, but we'll focus on  two main schools of thought: Problem-Driven Thinking and Solution-Driven  Thinking. When it comes to problem-driven and solution-driven motivations the  difference really boils down to this:

     Solution-driven thinking focuses on the acceptance of a problem and seeks  clarity around the reasons as to why solving the problem is important. This  thought process is usually the best for actually solving an issue.

     Problem-driven thinking focuses on the problem itself and why it emerged. This  is usually the most helpful when looking to prevent similar problems in the  future.

     It's important for founders to be honest about their motivations and thoughts  when starting a business. Failure to do so can lead to number 3 of the 5  dysfunctions of a team. "A lack of commitment". Not to mention for the team  bonding aspects that go along with this. Simply put:

     Different motivations > team members don't buy in > lack of commitment > team  dissolves > project dead.

     If you don't reflect and voice your motivations early you could end up with a  very different solution to a very different problem.

    Or worse yet, no solution at all.


    Paul Musters is a former professional tri-athlete and founder of Fortify.

     This article was written by Hayden Young, Marketing Manager of Antler  Amsterdam.

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