Four things you need to know about successful startup teams

Dominique Kunz

Feb 27, 2019
minute read

“Product and market are important, but in the end, everything hinges on the team” says Cédric Waldburger, parallel entrepreneur and investor.

We talked to Cédric about what makes a great team depending on your business model and company lifecycle stage. Here is what we found:

  • In the beginning, keep it flexible
  • Team meetings and how to make them efficient
  • Co-founders — your first team members
  • Centralized vs decentralized teams

You can listen to the full interview with Cédric here.

In the beginning, keep it flexible

Team roles and processes undergo fundamental changes as your company grows. Roughly every time you triple the number of employees, you have to fundamentally rethink the way you work together. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep roles and titles flexible as long as you can. Defining roles on a project-to-project basis may be a good approach. At an early stage, approximately up to 10 people, you will need mostly generalists, that are able to take on tasks as they present themselves. After you have passed this stage, specialists will become more important and with them, a certain structuring of your core business units.

Team meetings and how to make them efficient

Meetings, when done wrong, can become a waste of time for both you and your team. Therefore, it is worth investing some time and effort to get them right from the beginning. You don’t have to come up with everything yourself though. Try for example crowdsourcing ideas for effective processes and protocols with your team. A good way to minimize time spent in meetings is to establish certain documentation practices that allow everyone to stay in the loop by following the relevant document stream. This way, you can use meetings to discuss problems instead of merely giving updates on everyone’s progress.

Co-founders — your first team members

Your first team members are obviously going to be your co-founder(s). There are many things you should be considering when choosing who to start your company with. What it boils down to though, is that you and your co-founder(s) should share similar values and complement each other in your skills and ambitions. Holding similar values is crucial because it will allow you to find common ground even if you disagree on certain decisions. Complementary skills and ambitions will enable each of you to grow your own way without stepping on each other’s toes. No matter how well aligned you are with your co-founder(s) though, there are also going to be tough times to navigate as your company matures. In these situations, the only way forward is to communicate openly and to stay on the table until things are sorted out.

Centralized vs decentralized teams

Nowadays, the odds are high that you will have team members across different parts of the world. Decentralizing your team comes with with the advantage of being able to hire from a geographically larger talent pool. It also makes it more difficult, however, to build company culture and solve problems face-to-face. Choosing how decentralized your team can or should be will to a large degree depend on the type of product or service you are building. Highly complex and research heavy products or services do not lend themselves to decentralization, for example.

If you do chose to have a strongly decentralized team structure, it may be a good idea to bring everyone together on a quarterly or half-yearly basis. These meetings can serve to align on the roadmap, solve any difficult problems that have arisen and most importantly, to forge connections and build culture. Again, the importance of communication cannot be overemphasized. Getting regular feedback from employees and speaking to them face-to-face will help you to recognize potential problems early on.

Additional resources:

Hard Things About Hard Things — Ben Horowitz

Thinking Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman

Outliers — The Story of Success — Malcolm Gladwell

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