As an advisor to startups, and a mentor to many aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m still surprised at the number who are determined to go it alone. Even worse, when they figure out that they really need help, the first place they look is for an intern or untrained helpers. They don’t realize that these only increase their workload, due to training and management, rather than offloading real work.
Helpers do what you say, while people smarter than you in their domain do what you need, without any attention from you. In fact, if you are paying attention, you can actually learn from what they do. For example, inventors need to stick with their creative skills, and find a partner who knows how to build a business around it. That’s a win-win for both partners.
Thus top entrepreneurs spend as much time getting the right team in place to run the business as building the product or service. Unfortunately, some are so in love with themselves (narcissistic), that they can’t be convinced that anyone else could possibly run their finances, or take on marketing. True leaders know how to delegate and listen, and let others do what they know best.
In short, if you’re killing yourself with work, and following up on every detail, you may want to look closer at your team to ensure you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people. Of course, the right ones cost may you equity, but a small percentage of a big business is worth far more to you than a large chunk of nothing. Here are some attributes to look for in the people you need:
- Prior experience and skills to complement your strengths. Would you attempt to build the house of your dreams, with random helpers showing no experience? Find a partner who has dealt with the realities of technology, tools, and financing. A startup has enough unknowns, without ignorance of the basics. Don’t repeat the mistakes of others.
- Proven track record of getting things done. Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient to start a new business. Building a good plan, and measuring against that plan is crucial to growing any business. Often people with advanced degrees have academic smarts, but are not closers. You can’t afford to make every decision, or follow-up on every action.
- Develop and propose their own problem solutions. How often do the people around you recommend solutions, rather than highlight problems? If you’re teaming with people who are smarter than you, you should be frequently surprised with their new ideas and solutions. You may not always agree, but you will be constantly learning from them.
- Consistently passionate and positive in a role. The smart people you want are as positive and passionate about your business as you are. They take ownership and responsibility for their actions. They convince you with their actions that they understand the big picture. They argue confidently and deliberately, rather than defensively.
- Spend more time listening than talking. It’s hard for team members to learn while they are talking. Look for team members who are active listeners, where you find yourself seeking them out, rather than always the other way around. It’s great to team with people that you can envision working for someday, or taking the helm of your business.
- Push you to focus on strategic elements and being a better leader. You need people around you asking the right questions, and challenging you on strategic issues, rather than the crisis of the day. You will be motivated to hone your skills as a leader, and everyone will be motivated to raise their game to match the top performers.
- Make coming to work fun and exhilarating. Smart people, who are confident in their role and contributions, will make the business fun again, rather than a stress-producer that keeps you up at night. Situations handled correctly and properly anticipated result in many exhilarating small successes, which makes the business a joy for everyone.
Of course, finding the right people is never easy, just like creating an innovative new solution is not easy. Count on building and testing relationships over several months, before you conclude that you really know what a person is capable of. Be sure to test your initial perspective on people you trust, including advisors, investors, and other partners. No “one night stands” need apply.
In my view, if more entrepreneurs spent the same amount of time finding the right partners and team members that they often spend developing the right solutions, the failure rate of startups would fall quickly from the current 90 percent in five years to maybe half that rate. Don’t let your ego get in the way. It’s your success and satisfaction that’s really at stake.