Saturday, April 7, 2012

Team building advice

Who should you look for as teammates? What characteristics or skills are important for success?

Since many of you are in the process of looking for teammates, I wanted to say a few words about the characteristics of highly performing startup teams. As you network through the site, with former coworkers, professors, and other entrepreneurs, you want to think carefully about the mix of skills and personalities you're adding to the team. Working with personal friends or family members is sometimes tempting, but the mix of personal relationships and business can result in some difficult situations. More promising is to find people who you've worked with in the past who you know you can work well together with. Or people who your former work colleagues can vouch for who are in their network.

If you can find an experienced entrepreneur, particularly one who has done a similar startup in the same industry before, this can greatly improve your chances for success and speed up the fundraising process. But you also have to be careful with this strategy.

In the initial round, we intentionally matched you up with people who are local. Being colocated with your team has many benefits as Manu Kumar, an experienced entrepreneur and Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is a guest speaker and mentor in my class at Stanford writes about it here and here.

However, some of you will prefer to have some international teammates and we're going to allow this to occur in the second phase of teambuilding. International teammates can bring benefits in the form of diverse networks and connections, knowledge of another culture and regulatory environment, and they can be particularly beneficial for businesses that involve international trade. Yet there are also downsides. The time differences can make communication more difficult and the type of rapid iteration and nimbleness that is necessary in an early stage startup can be harder over long distances. So, there are two sides to the coin and I encourage you to think carefully when building geographically distributed teams.

In the video below I discuss some aspects of co-founding teams and provide some further insights from my research with coauthors at Wharton and MIT about how it is important to match the skills on the founding team with the firm strategy and industry context. Conventional wisdom tends to advise that building more diverse teams is better. In many cases this is true. You need a variety of skills from engineering to marketing to sales on the team. Having people who have worked at different companies brings a larger network and having a mixture of experience levels also has advantages. Sometimes having an industry veteran combined with a younger entrepreneur who is ready and willing to question everything and suggest bold new ideas is incredibly valuable. Greater variety brings more perspectives which can help in terms of networks and problem solving. It's also important to have teammates who share your passion/vision and excitement about the idea or the problem you want to work on solving.

However, we find that when the team is pursuing a highly innovative technology strategy, and when the startup is in an industry where they are likely to partner with established industry incumbents who will handle the distribution, sales and marketing (such as in the life sciences or medical devices), then having a more technically focused team (of all engineers, scientists, computer programmers, etc.) can be better.

Regardless, it is important to think carefully when deciding who to add to the founding team because this will play a large part in determining the eventual outcomes of the startup.

In this video as in the others, you may want to activate HTML5, which will allow you to play the video at higher speed. I'm still getting used to lecturing into a webcam, which I find less natural than speaking in front of a group and for some reason it causes me to slow down rather than speed up my pace of talking. I'm sure I'll get used to it more with time.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

[transcript download will be here]

In the video below I talk a bit about the approach to teaching technology entrepreneurship and what perhaps can and can't be taught. There is a short clip from Randy Komisar, an investor (venture capitalist) with Kleiner Perkins where he gives his take on this. Many people assume that entrepreneurship is all about getting lucky and that it cannot be taught.

What I want to emphasize in this video is not that we have all the answers, but rather that there are certain patterns in entrepreneurship that we can learn from. There are patterns in the evolution of technology and in industry life cycles that we see again and again in many industries. While I have been an entrepreneur myself, currently, in addition to teaching, a large part of what I do is research these patterns in entrepreneurship to try to find things that we can teach to first time entrepreneurs to help them to avoid common mistakes, avoid failure, and hopefully increase performance and the chances of success.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

[transcript download will be here]
To help with transcription/translation, click here for dotsub.