Money doesn’t grow businesses, people do. And so if you’ve got a great idea but you’re agonising over how to find the people to help you turn it into a reality, that’s fine. You should be agonising – because recruiting people is that important. Get the right people on board at the beginning, and everything else will fall into place. Get it wrong though, and sooner or later you will regret the day you ever decided to start up your company.
How many people should be in the founding team?
Google was founded by two people, Larry and Sergey; Microsoft was founded by two people, Bill and Paul; and Yahoo! was founded by two people, Jerry and David. Hardly a scientific survey, but it’s enough to make the point: all it takes to start a multibillion dollar company is two people. You can always include a third or fourth person later on, but it’s best to start lean and mean. Two heads are better than one, but three heads are not necessarily better than two. This isn’t just for reasons of cooks and spoiled broth, valid as they are. There are more fundamental reasons: in founding teams of two, it’s easier to communicate and to deal with problems as and when they arise. In a two-person environment, these things merely take one phone call; when more people are added, they can take forever.
What skills should I look for?
Ideally you want a combination of technical and marketing prowess (in a team of two, one person can play each role). All the better if your technical person(s) and marketing person(s) are generalists, as they’re equipped to deal with the unexpected, whereas specialists aren’t.
If you’re a non-technical person, one challenge you’re likely to face is knowing exactly what technical skills to look for. The solution is to identify a product/service that’s similar to the business you are trying to launch and find out what technical skills you need. Once you’ve done so, waste as little time as possible on people who cannot assure you (for example, through previous work) that they can provide you with those.
What kind of people make great founding team members?
You know you’ve found a good candidate when he or she can be described as any of these things: down-to-earth, unconcerned with superficialities like title, self-aware, open-minded, pragmatic, worldly-wise, and affable. Oh, and time-rich (starting-up takes time!) People like this get things done. Beware, however, many people you will encounter in entrepreneurial circles are the opposite: egotistic, overly concerned with titles/status, toe-curlingly self-unaware and pretty irritating after a while. Make sure you avoid these noisy, yet useless, people. The best thing to do in your quest for good people to join your team is to take your time to suss people out. It’s preferable to have worked with them before on a couple of occasions so you have an idea of what they’ll be like in the context of your company. Failing this, listen to what other people say about them.
What about extra people?
Although a core of about two people is ideal to lead your business, you may need some foot soldiers to help with the grunt work. Don’t expect recruits like these to be as committed as founding team members or engaged for too long. Nine times out of ten, the motivating factors for them are CV points, making connections, and the opportunity to use your start-up as a stepping stone towards something else. Do your best as a founder to facilitate their goals and these foot soldiers will repay you with valuable work.
Where can I find team members?
One school of thought says never try to start-up a business with your close friends because it can ruin a friendship. Another school of thought says do start-up with a close friend because you know them better than anyone else and can therefore trust them to do a good job. Both have an element of truth. The fact is the best of friends can indeed fall out over business, but going into business with a close friend minimises the risk of not knowing what you are letting yourself in for. So don’t be put off starting up a business with your friends, but just be aware of these considerations. Apart from your friendship circle, potential team members are also likely to be found in student societies, unsurprisingly so as most of these are effectively small businesses.