Building Great Founding Teams

Building Great Founding Teams

Source: Steve Blank

“That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart…We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

William Shakespeare, Henry V

There’s been a lot written about the individual characteristics of what makes a great founder, but a lot less about what makes a great founding team and how that’s different from a greatfounding CEO.

I think we’ve been imprecise in defining three different roles. In doing so we’ve failed to help founders understand what it takes to build a great founding team.

Here are my definitions.

Founders – The Idea

A Founder is the one with the original idea, scientific discovery, technical breakthrough, insight, problem description, passion, etc. A founder typically recruits co-founders and then becomes part of the founding team involved in day-to-day company operations. (However, in some industries such as life sciences, founders may be tenured professors who are not going to give up their faculty positions, so they often become the head of a startup’s scientific advisory board, but aren’t part of the founding team.)

A couple of caveats about founders with “ideas.” It’s important to differentiate between ideas that have been or can be patented and ideas thought up late night in a dorm-room. One of the hardest concepts for my students to grasp is that “an idea is not a company.” The reality is that in most cases, without the company to commercialize it, the idea is worthless (except to a patent troll.)

Even if they become part of the founding team, it’s not a given that the founder, having come up with the idea has a “guaranteed” leadership role (CEO or VP) in the new company. For some entrepreneurs this idea that the founder is not necessarily the CEO, is a surprise. When I hear, “What do you mean I’m not CEO? It’s my idea!” I get nervous that the founder is clueless about what makes the founding CEO special, and what else it actually takes to build a company. (Read on to see the difference in the roles.)

Founding Team – The Rock on Which to Build the Company

The founding team includes the founder and a few other co-founders with complementary skills to the founder. This is the group who will build the company. Its goal is to take the original idea and search for a repeatable and scalable business model– first by finding product/market fit, then by testing all the parts of the business model (pricing, channel, acquisition/activation, partners, costs, etc.)

In web/mobile startups the canonical view is the founding team consists of a hacker, a hustler, and a designer. In other domains, the skill sets differ, but the key idea is that you want a team with complementary skills.

There’s no magic number about the “right” number of founders for a founding team, but two to four seems to be the sweet spot. One of the biggest mistakes in assembling a founding team is not thinking through the need for skills but instead settling for who’s around. The two tests of whether someone belongs on a founding team are: “Do we have a company without them?” and, “Can we find someone else just like them?” If both answers are no, you’ve identified a co-founder. If any of the answers are “Yes,” then hire them a bit later as an early employee.

Key attributes of an entrepreneur on a founding team are passion, determination, resilience, tenacity, agility and curiosity. It helps if the team has had a history of working together, but what is essential is mutual respect. And what is critical is trust. You need to be able to trust your co-founders to perform, to do what they say they will, and to have your back.

Most startups that fail over team issues fail because co-founders hadn’t dated first, (spent time together in a Startup Weekend, worked together in an incubator, etc.) but instead jumped into bed to start a company.

Everyone has ideas. It’s the courage, passion and tenacity of the founding team that turn ideas into businesses.

Founding CEO – Reality Distortion Field and Comfort in Chaos

Idealistic founders trying to run a venture with collective leadership, without a single person in charge, find that’s the fastest way to go out of business. Speed, tempo and fearless decision-making are a startups strategic advantage. More often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that the need for immediate decisions overwhelms a collective decision process.<

The founding team CEO is the first among equals in the founding team. Ironically they are almost never the most intelligent or technically astute person on the team. What sets them apart from the rest of the team is that they can project a fearless reality distortion field that they use to recruit, fund raise, pivot and position the company. They are the ultimate true believers in the company and have the vision, passion and skill to communicate why this seemingly crazy idea will work and change the world.

In addition, the founding CEO thrives operating in chaos and uncertainty. They deal with the daily crisis of product development and acquiring early customers. And as the reality of product development and customer input collide, the facts change so rapidly that the original well-thought-out product plan becomes irrelevant. While the rest of the team is focused on their specific jobs, the founding CEO is trying to solve a complicated equation where almost all the variables are unknown – unknown customers, unknown features that will make those customers buy, unknown pricing, unknown demand creation activities that will get them into your sales channel, etc.

They’re biased for action and they don’t wait around for someone else to tell them what to do. Great founding CEOs live for these moments.

Figure Out Who You Are

Many founding teams fail because they’ve never had the conversation about founder, founding team and founding CEO. Spend the time and take stock of who’s on the journey with you.

Lessons Learned

  • Founder, Founding team, Founding CEO all have word “founder” in them but have different roles
  • Founder has the initial idea. May or may not be on the founding team or have a leadership role
  • Founding team – complementary skills – builds the company
  • Founding CEO – reality distortion field and comfort in chaos – leads the company by


Authored by Steve Blank

How to Evaluate Personal Characteristics When Hiring

How to Evaluate Personal Characteristics When Hiring

Source: Gary SwartSource: Gary Swart

Last week, I wrote about how personal characteristics were the biggest predictor of whether a potential hire would succeed, even over skills and knowledge. Many of you commented and rightly asked, “how do you evaluate that?”

While they’re critical to making the right hiring decisions, personal characteristics require much more effort to evaluate. Simply interviewing for them isn’t enough. We’re talking about traits like ethics, judgement, integrity and values — so you can’t exactly ask someone, “how ethical are you?”

Instead, actual experiences are the best reflection of someone’s character. As Senior Talent Acquisition Professional Tim Heard commented on last week’s post, “All else being equal, the best predictor of future performance is past performance.”So instead of placing weight on interviews, thefocus should be on deep reference checks, resume evaluation and, yes, even gut instincts.

The reference checks

While you can’t ask a candidate how ethical they are, you can ask people who have worked with them. At oDesk we believe in what we call ‘deep reference checks’ — talking to many references, especially ones who were not provided by the candidate. We all know that interviews can only tell you so much, and that the references given by a candidate generally represent only the most positive among their contacts. As a result, deep reference checks are the most heavily weighted part of our hiring process.

There are two ways to conduct deep reference checks — asking for referrals and doing backdoor reference checks.

Backdoor reference checks can be tremendously helpful, but they center on knowing at least one person who has worked with the candidate before (or who knows someone who has). By talking to that second- or third-degree connection, you can get a more authentic look at what the candidate was like in a previous role. (LinkedIn is a great place to start for finding these mutual connections.) If a backdoor reference isn’t available, you can ask for referrals by calling the references provided by the candidate, then asking those people, “who also worked with [name] that I could talk to?” That will lead to a second or even third tier of people who are likely to be more unbiased than the original references.

When talking to references, remember to cross-check what the candidate said during interviews, to ensure they were being accurate about abilities and past results; discrepancies here can be a signal that there are problems with trustworthiness, or that the candidate lacks personal insight.

The resume

Another way to assess character via past performance is to take a close look at the candidate’s resume. Have they proactively steered their career, in a way that signals growth and not opportunism? Have they been given increasing responsibility (either within one company or among several), or do they frequently make one lateral move after another? The latter may reflect that the candidate lacks a sense of mission, which is critical to holding on when a company hits a rough patch. Or worse, the pattern could indicate that the candidate is a “soldier of fortune,” leaving as soon as a situation is no longer optimal for them. Finally, if all of the departures are for reasons beyond their control, then the candidate’s judgment in choosing companies and roles can be called into question. Look for these and other patterns in a resume, as job progression can tell you a lot about someone’s character — from personal responsibility and work ethic to loyalty.

The gut check

At the end of the day, what’s most important is that the candidate has the characteristics that matter most to your team. Assessing this character fit requires that you get in touch with your gut instincts.

To do so, you can ask yourself:

  • Would I be comfortable on a project where my success depended on this person?
  • Would I like working with them?
  • Would I be willing to be fully open and honest with them and truly believe they were acting in kind?
  • Would I be proud to turn over my most valued customer relationship to this person?
  • Could I see myself working for this person someday?
  • Do I trust this person?

The interview

Of course you shouldn’t neglect the interview itself, as it can still provide some helpful insights. But I would suggest reframing the interview — instead of taking answers at face value, use the interview to dig deeper into patterns and behavior. By listening carefully, you can begin to piece together a picture of how the candidate sees the world and their relationship to it.

Painting a full picture may take multiple interviewers comparing and contrasting their impressions. For example, often several people get a vague sense that they were not comfortable with something about a person, and only by discussing it together are they able to identify what they were seeing. Remember to also watch for consistency of responses, as it’s a major red flag to get different answers to similar questions at different times.

When all is said and done…

…if you don’t trust the candidate or don’t want to work with them, neither will your customers or team members. Do not compromise on personal characteristics.

How do you evaluate the personal characteristics of a potential hire? Are there certain techniques that have worked best for you?

Authored by Gary Swart

12 Points – Do You Cover These In Your Touch Point Process?

12 Points – Do You Cover These In Your Touch Point Process?

In B2B selling, there are conflicting reports about how many times you need to metaphorically touch a prospect before they buy from you, so whether it’s 5, 7 or something else, it’s likely more than just the first or second interaction you have with them.

People like to buy from people they like, know and trust and you can speed up the relationship building part with extra touch points and adding your own personality where possible. Not many people do it, so stand out and make it work for you.

Have a look at these points and see if you can introduce any into your process:

  1. Make your initial contact via telephone or in person to arrange a meeting rather than email.
  2. Send a personalized calendar invite to confirm your meeting.
  3. Attend your actual first meeting.
  4. Leave a brief hand written card with their assistant to be delivered when you leave, thanking them for their time today.
  5. Send a follow up email to confirm your next steps or include your proposal.
  6. Send a personalized LinkedIn connection request if you connected well.
  7. Telephone and arrange your next appointment to discus your proposal or to follow up on a decision.
  8. Follow them on Twitter or become a fan of their Facebook page, great intel for further meetings.
  9. Attend your follow up meeting.
  10. Thank them and confirm your deal in writing via email.
  11. Send a personalized hand written card thanking them for their business.
  12. Call either in person or telephone after you have shipped to check they are happy with what they purchased.

If their decision was a “no”, why not still send a hand written card wishing them luck with their chosen provider?

It is worth mentioning here that if you add in a little of your personality at each point, such as a friendly personal message in your calendar invite, you really will start to build a relationship with them quite quickly which can only be a good thing.

Compare these steps with what you are currently doing now. I am guessing, but I would imagine that in many cases, points 2,4,6,8,11 and 12 would be missed out.

Of course once your prospect has bought from you, there are many more times that your customer is then touched with personal communication from you, others staff members involvement, head office interaction, marketing and so on, and if you have done and continue to do a great job delivering in all of these different areas, the word of mouth advertising from your new customer will come.

For comments: What extra points do you do we can add to the list?

Thanks for reading my posts, I hope you enjoy them and leave me your own thoughts and comments below. I do hope you follow my posts in the future.

My book “Learn Marketing with Social Media in 7 Days” (Wiley) is available now and my next book “Start with Hello” (Wiley) will be out in September but available for pre-order on Amazon.

You may be interested in some earlier posts like:

7 Modern day ways to leave a lasting impression

When to wear your Wonder Woman knickers

Don’t call me maybe, pick up the phone

Authored by Linda Coles

A Simple Rule to Eliminate Useless Meetings

A Simple Rule to Eliminate Useless Meetings

Source: Jeff Weiner

Ask your team to identify their biggest productivity killer and inevitably two issues will rise to the top of the list: managing their inboxes and their meeting schedules.

I’ll tackle the former in a future post. For now, I’d like to focus on increasing the value of meetings by sharing a practice our team has implemented to great effect.

At LinkedIn, we have essentially eliminated the presentation. In lieu of that, we ask that materials that would typically have been presented during a meeting be sent out to participants at least 24 hours in advance so people can familiarize themselves with the content.

Bear in mind: Just because the material has been sent doesn’t mean it will be read. Taking a page out of Jeff Bezo’s book, we begin each meeting by providing attendees roughly 5-10 minutes to read through the deck. If people have already read it, this gives them an opportunity to refresh their memory, identify areas they’d like to go deeper on, or just catch up on email.

If the idea of kicking off a meeting with up to 10 minutes of silence strikes you as odd, you’re not alone. The first time I read about this practice it immediately conjured up images of a library or study hall, two of the last forums I would equate with meeting productivity. However, after the first few times you try it, not only won’t it be awkward — it will be welcome. This is particularly true when meetings end early with participants agreeing it was time well spent.

Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion.There is no presentation. It’s important to stay vigilant on this point as most people who prepared the materials will reflexively begin presenting. If you are concerned about appearing insensitive by not allowing individuals who worked hard on the materials to have their moment, constructively remind the group this is a new practice that is being applied to the entire company and will benefit all meeting attendees, including the artist formerly known as The Presenter.

With the presentation eliminated, the meeting can now be exclusively focused on generating a valuable discourse: Providing shared context, diving deeper on particularly cogent data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate.

If the material has been well thought out and simply and intuitively articulated, chances are the need for clarifying questions will be kept to a minimum. In these situations, you may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.

Of course, even the best prepared material may reach a highly contentious recommendation or conclusion. However, the good news is meeting attendees will now be able to dig into the subject matter and share their real opinions rather than waste time listening to an endless re-hashing of points they’re already familiar with, or worse still find irrelevant or redundant.

In addition to eliminating presentations in favor of discussions, the following are a few additional practices I’ve learned along the way when it comes to running effective meetings:

1. Define the objective of the meeting. Asking one simple question at the onset of the meeting, “What is the objective of this meeting,” can prove invaluable in terms of ensuring everyone is on the same page and focused on keeping the meeting on point, rather than allowing it to devolve down endless ratholes unrelated to the matter at hand. I’ve seen some companies go as far as including the meeting objective on the cover sheet of the materials.

2. Identify who is driving. Each meeting needs one person behind the wheel. More than one driver and it’s going to be prohibitively difficult to keep the car on the road. The primary role of this point person is to ensure the conversation remains relevant, that no one person ends up dominating the discussion, and that adjunct discussions that arise during the course of the meeting are taken offline.

3. Take the time to define semantics (and first principles). It never ceases to amaze me how often meetings go off the rails by virtue of semantic differences. Picture a United Nations General Assembly gathering without the real-time translation headphones and you’ll have the right visual. Words have power, and as such, it’s worth investing time upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what certain keywords, phrases, and concepts mean to the various constituencies around the table.

4. Assign someone to take notes. This should not be the equivalent of a court stenographer documenting every word uttered, but rather someone who is well versed in the meeting’s objectives and who has a clear understanding of context that can capture only the most salient points. This not only avoids the classic Rashomon effect — multiple people recalling one event in multiple ways — but also creates a plan of record for what was discussed and agreed to. This can also be particularly valuable for invitees who weren’t able to make the meeting.

5. Summarize key action items, deliverables, and points of accountability. Don’t end the meeting without summarizing key conclusions, action items, and points of accountability for delivering on next steps. This summary is usually the first thing to suffer if the meeting has run long and people start running off to their next scheduled event. However, it’s arguably the single most important thing you’ll do at the meeting (and is ostensibly the reason for the meeting to begin with). Have the discipline to ensure attendees sit tight and remain focused while next steps are being discussed and agreed to.

6. Ask what you can do better. I like to gather feedback at the end of meetings I’m responsible for (particularly if it’s a new standing meeting) by asking whether or not the attendees found it valuable and what we can do to improve it in the future. There is no better way to ensure the meeting is necessary. If it’s not, either change the objective and/or format, or take it off the calendar.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and the best practices you use to run meetings more effectively.


Authored by Jeff Weiner

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