Many start ups require a founding team. It is practically impossible for one person to have a broad enough skill set to start a successful new venture. I am a huge proponent of teams. I am a strong believer in the fact that no person is an island and that it is much better to have a smaller piece of a bigger pie than a large piece of a much smaller pie.
So who do you need on your team? Where do you find them? What values and characteristics are most important when forging your team?
Who do you need on your team?
First thing you need to do is objectively look at yourself and your own skills and abilities and compare that to what you need to start this venture to see where the gaps are. Are you a good sales person? Organizer? Accounting & Finance? Marketing? Researcher? Writer? Speaker? These are just some of the fundamental areas you will most likely need while planning and launching your new venture. It is hard to critically analyze your own skills and abilities so you may need a third party to help you, there are also tests online that evaluate what type of entrepreneur you are and what other types of entrepreneurs you need to add to your team (check out http://www.peoplethatclick.com/). There may also be specific technical roles you need to fill on your team (such as software engineer, website designer, etc.). You need to make the decision in the beginning whether these key roles will be paid positions or are they so critical to your venture’s success that you should be making them a partner.
Where do you find them?
This is possibly the hardest question, where do you find good partners? Well the internet has helped make this a lot more feasible to reach a larger geographic area. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be in entrepreneurial hubs like Route 128 or Silicon Valley (or the top entrepreneurship college for that matter) so you need to keep that in mind while you are searching for your team. Also, keep in mind that friends and relatives may seem willing and able at first to be a part of your new venture, but, I highly recommend that these are the people you are most critical of in adding to your team. Many friendships and family relationships have been torn apart by new ventures that began to turn sour as one person began to not pull their fair share of the weight (which is bound to happen in almost all scenarios).
Networking is crucial, keeping a good contact management system (as simple as collecting business cards from people you meet and writing a short summary of who they are on the back) so you know who people are and what they are interested in. Attend events and forums as well as chamber of commerce events, take a class on entrepreneurship at a local college and network with your classmates, post a classified ad, getting yourself out there is perhaps the most important thing of all! Countless potential entrepreneurs are so afraid of people stealing their idea that they do not tell anyone and their venture never goes beyond a concept. Tell as many people as are willing to listen to you! You never know who knows that certain someone that will become your ideal new business partner and help make your vision a reality.
There are some great key resources for building a team online. A quick search on Yahoo! for forums relating to entrepreneurship or small business will get you started in the right direction in terms of networking with folks online. A free classified ad on Craigslist will begin to generate potential partners if you know specifically what you are looking for and can post an effective ad. If your partners are not located locally your start up can still be successful, services such as Skype (free voice telephony & conferencing), instant messenger, or email help make the world a much smaller place and can provide effective means of communication and file exchange. In fact, some new ventures find they are more effective with their time by utilizing these communication methods as opposed to sitting in the same room together with their partners from 9-5.
What values and characteristics are most important when forging your team?
If I was a venture capitalist the stock answer would be that they attended an Ivy League school, have either an MBA or engineering degree, and have launched at least one highly successful new venture. However, seeing as how for most of us finding someone with those qualifications is not an option in the start up phase I am going to throw out that list of criteria completely. You need someone with integrity, with knowledge and experience in the functional areas that you are most lacking, with drive and the entrepreneurial hunger, someone you can work well with but who will challenge you, and most importantly someone that agrees with your gut. On this area you never want to go against your gut feeling, our subliminal mind picks up things we may not at first and hence the “gut feeling” is often right on the mark in this area. If something inside you tells you this person may not be the right partner, do not let them be a part of your new venture. Countless people make this mistake (including myself), always go with your gut instincts on this issue. On a side note, do not be swayed by individuals who approach you bragging about their immense personal network of connections and how they can contact numerous individuals who will greatly help your venture. Contacts in many instances are nothing more than a business card or a friend of a friend of a friend; while in some cases they may pull through, do not put as much faith in other individual's “contacts” as they would lead you to believe….just a lesson learned through personal experiences multiple times.