Venture Capitalist at Theory

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3 minute read / Dec 13, 2012 /

Great startup management teams are built with interlocking parts

Great teams accomplish amazing things. But it’s rare for any founding team to have all the constituent parts on the day they start the company. Most startups will need to build a strong management team whose strengths and knowledge complement the founding team. Finding the right people to help starts with being honest.

As Swizec of Zemanta wrote yesterday, there simply isn’t enough time in the day for founders to manage all the key parts of a startup: BD, hiring, fundraising, goal setting, product management and company management in addition to coding.

But words “building a management team” evoke anxiety in many founders I meet. Below is the process I’ve seen work well at many of our portfolio companies.

The process

Assessing the team
The first part of building a management team is performing an honest assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and personal goals of the founders. In other words, “What kinds of people does this person need around him/her to be successful?” Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Great teams have individuals who complement each others weaknesses' with strengths - as a result, they team becomes a force multiplier for the business.

A founder may be a great technologist who is passionate about architecture and technology, but needs help managing team. A founder may be a great salesperson and leader who wants to remain in the field and needs help managing product and engineering. A founder may be a great general manager but needs help scaling the business, managing all the different parts of the company efficiently. Every situation is unique. But common to each, the key element for growth is building a trusted team.

Defining the role
The second part of building the team is defining the ideal candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. These parameters fall out naturally from the founder strength assessment and the demands of the role. Often, it’s helpful to speak with other founders who have hired similar candidates or hire an expert recruiter to guide the process and build a candidate pipeline. Easiest of all is to point to someone in the ecosystem and say, “We want to hire someone exactly like that person!”

Finding candidate/team fit
Just like product/market fit, candidate/team fit is the most important characteristic of building the management team. Open communication, trust and shared vision are the sine qua non of a new management hire. They are essential.

Management team candidates should spend lots of time with the company meeting as many of the team as possible in as many different environments as possible (team meetings, offsites, crises) to build rapport, understanding and trust.

Matrix Multiplication

Management teams are the infrastructure upon which great companies are built. Underinvesting in them will hamper growth and leave founders scrambling to find the time to code, design product, and the six hundred other items on their task list. But laying the right foundation and making the right investments can drive exponential growth.

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