For young entrepreneurs with minimal funding and maximum energy, building a team is not typically top of mind. The thinking seems simple: Why not work alone to stretch out limited financial resources, building the team out as late in the game as you possibly can? Though the plan may seem cost-effective, believe me — it’s not.
I almost fell victim to this train of thought during the startup stages of Wakanow.com, a full-service online travel company that was built to ease online booking travel to and from Africa. In the beginning, I was forced to learn some technical website stuff and how to sketch out a strategic marketing plan, but I struggled with both. I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own — a lesson all young entrepreneurs should learn quickly. While it may be possible for a little while, it’s much easier to just admit your faults and start building out your team.
That said, building a core team during the startup phase of your business is challenging. Here are some steps I’ve learned along the way that you can use to assist with building a competent team.
The first exercise in team building for an entrepreneur is to analyze yourself.
Ego aside, be objective about what skills you possess, and — more importantly — what skills you lack. Be completely honest with yourself when analyzing your skill set, and make a list. Not the best at organization, finance, leading a meeting or closing sales? Think about every skill in which you are deficient or have inadequate experience, and remember that there are always others with more experience and time to execute core aspects of your business.
Legendary businessman and investor Warren Buffet has said, “Hire smart people and get out of their way.” I tend to agree; however, the key is to hire smart people who complement your talents.
Make Sure Candidates Share Your Vision
Before you start building out your dream team, make sure you can clearly and concisely convey your vision to each prospective member. Writing is known to help with cluttered thoughts, so don’t be afraid to sit at the laptop or with a pen and paper and start writing out your company’s vision and goals — this is something I do regularly. Once you’re armed with a strong company voice, make sure the people interviewing for the team also share in this vision.
Know What Skill Sets to Look For
Before you start building out the team, go back to the basics and think about which skills are needed for the position at hand. Here’s a quick rundown of some traditional key company positions, with some of the top people in the positions to learn from:
- CEO (Chief Executive Officer): Highest ranking corporate officer to whom everyone reports. Besides the daily lead of management, remember this is also the person that tends to be the key decision-maker. A leading CEO to study when looking for skills? Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks.
- COO (Chief Operating Officer): Responsible for day-to-day operations, and sometimes called president. Think of Tim Cook when he was working under Steve Jobs.
- CFO (Chief Financial Officer): Manages all aspects of financial risk and management, and must be super organized to keep track of data analysis and financial planning.
- CMO (Chief Marketing Officer): Head of product development, with duties of obtaining growth through marketing and sales.
Don’t Forget the Importance of the Interview
Finding employees nowadays is easier with the vast number of tools available, such as LinkedIn and the hundreds of recruiting agencies, but don’t forget to be on the lookout for talent while networking at business functions and meetings too.
Once you do find prospective candidates, know what to recognize during the interview. The resume is obviously important but think of it as a ticket to an interview. During the interview, look not only for drive and passion but also the candidate’s willingness to learn. Make sure to ask about how they had dealt with tough situations in previous positions. How someone recognizes a problem is one thing, but how they devise a solution is quite another. Those who master both will surely stick out from your applicant pool.
And remember that chemistry counts — you’ll be building a great company with these team members, so make sure they’re the right fit. At the end, it all comes down to trusting your gut: If something seems a bit off and you can’t pinpoint it, keep searching. You’ll know when the right team member comes along.
Train for Talent
When it comes to training, I abide by this quote from Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Everyone has special qualities, and your goal is to find those special qualities and cultivate them. Don’t spend valuable time training someone for something they are simply not capable of.
“You’re only good as your team” are truly words to live by. I learned this first as a professional basketball player, but these words yielded an even greater truth in my transition into business. You don’t have to be in business alone — and those initial hires are key determining factors of how successful your business will be.