Neil Patel

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How to Build a Team That Won’t Sink Your Startup

team building

Many successful entrepreneurs won’t admit this secret.

But I’ll let you in on it.

There is no such thing as a solo entrepreneur.

Nobody who’s ever scaled a business from the ground up did it alone.

In fact, left to themselves, they wouldn’t have a business.

I recently read a book about legendary businessman and investor Warren Buffett.

Buffett spent years trying to convince his longtime friend, Charlie Munger, to be his business partner.

He never went looking elsewhere.

He never settled for anybody else.

He knew Charlie was the man, and he did everything to get him on board.

Reading this story just solidified what I already knew.

The people you choose to work with have the ability to make or break your business.

If you look at research on why startups don’t make it, the wrong team is among the top reasons.

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It is imperative that you are selective and strategic about your team.

If you’re just starting a business, this is likely something that you’ve thought about.

I know because I get this question a lot:

“How do I choose the right team members for my startup?”

In this article, I will give you my best advice for building a team that will carry your startup all the way to the top.

Best of all, I’ll let you in on some actionable strategies for ensuring that your team is fire-proof.

Nothing will kill your startup faster than having to put out fires every step of the way.

Still with me? Good, let’s get to it.

1. Start with you

At the risk of sounding cliche, I’ll say this:

Self-awareness is the foundation of everything good.

A formidable team begins with you.

Here’s the proof:

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The reality is, you won’t have every single skill that it takes to scale a startup.

First, objectively evaluate your skill set.

What are you great at?

What do you lack?

And it’s not just about hard skills.

The soft qualities come into play as well. As many as 77% of employers agree that soft skills are just as important.

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Your personality, your values, and your beliefs are all things that you need to take into consideration.

After you’ve got a solid grasp of what you bring to the table, you can start thinking about your team.

Do what you’re great at.

Find competent people to handle the rest.

It’s as simple as that.

2. Hire action-takers who can get the job done

No business has ever taken off based on an idea.

It is execution that transforms an idea into a legitimate, revenue-generating business.

You want to build a team that’s capable of accomplishing things instead of just spouting off ideas.

Before you think about anything else, consider candidates for the hard skills that they possess.

Why the emphasis on core competencies?

Startups are grueling.

Things move at a rapid pace.

Challenges get thrown at you at every turn.

Perhaps that why there’s been a significant decline in startups over the years.

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It is imperative that you have team members with the agility to deal with problems quickly and efficiently.

With the competitive nature of business, you also need people who are resourceful.

The ability to innovate and to come up with creative solutions is a critical asset.

Many entrepreneurs wait until things go wrong, then scramble to get people to fix it.

Think about the potential challenges from the outset, and build a team that can handle whatever comes their way.

3. Don’t build a team for a startup

Isn’t that what this entire article is about?

Yes, but let me explain.

The startup phase is temporary.

While it’s true that many businesses don’t make it past that initial phase, that’s not what you want your trajectory to be.

Here are the failure rates for small businesses across several years:

5 Reasons Why Businesses Fail Infographic

Don’t let this discourage you.

You can have a business that remains viable for years to come.

But, it’s important that you build a team for the long term.

What exactly does this mean?

Build your team with the entire organization’s structure in mind.

Consider the long-term vision for your business.

Write down all the different departments that you will need to bring that vision to reality.

Here are some examples.

  • Marketing and sales
  • Product design and development
  • Accounting and finance
  • Research and development

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These are pretty standard across many industries, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

This exercise is simply about mapping the architecture of your business.

Bear in mind that you don’t need a team member to represent every possible function.

At least, not in the beginning.

Think about the functions that are necessary to give life to a minimally viable version of your business.

What does this mean?

Here’s an illustration of minimum viability:

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When you have that laid out, hire people who would be leaders for each of these functions.

This way, when you’re ready to scale your business, there’s far less friction.

You already have a leadership structure in place. You can make a seamless transition into expanding your team.

4. Hire people who understand the importance of customer service

Customer service should not be the sole responsibility of one department in your business.

Every team member should be driven by a desire to do right by the end consumer.

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s good for your bottom line.

I get it.

Revenue makes all the difference. You should be thinking about the numbers.

But if you can build a team that always places your customers front and center, you’ll have no trouble meeting your revenue goals.

This goes for established businesses, but it’s even more crucial for a startup.

When you’re just starting off, you may not have the resources to hire a large team.

This means that everybody may be involved in the sales and marketing functions.

That includes direct interaction with potential customers.

So ensure that your team is equipped with the right attitude to serve.

Here are some of the factors that matter to customers:

Customer service trends are you being served Marketing Week

5. Personalities matter

A sure-fire way to sink your startup is to hire team members who don’t get along.

Constant friction will get in the way of the work that needs to be done.

I’m not saying that a particular personality trait should be a qualifying factor to join your team.

In fact, you want a diverse group.

But you should get to know your team.

What are their traits?

Although controversial, personality tests are widely used in recruitment. 46% of employers use them.

What Are Pre Employment Tests Criteria Corp Hire Faster

These qualities will help you decide if someone is a good team fit.

But it’s not just about building a team that will work well together.

That’s a big part of it, but there are some other crucial things to consider.

What are the goals of your team members?

How does the job contribute to these goals?

I’ll tell you why that’s important.

Not everyone who seeks a position at your business is in it for the long haul. It may not be their ultimate dream, but a gateway to what they really want.

It’s likely why 50% of employed people are still seeking new job opportunities.

web jobvite com rs jobvite images 2014 20Job 20Seeker 20Survey pdf

For example, someone might want to join your team for an opportunity to network and make connections.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t hire them?

That’s your call to make.

They can still instrumentally serve your business even if it’s only for a short while.

But if you want people who are going to do great work for the long haul, make sure that their goals are aligned with the job.

The most important thing is that you know your team members’ ambitions.

6. Be a ringmaster

This is related to the previous point.

When you know what the individual traits and goals of your team members are, you can be a more effective leader.

That’s what I mean by being a ringmaster.

A ringmaster or ring mistress is someone who orchestrates a circus performance.

They ensure that each performer works together to create a seamless show.

That’s who you want to be for your team.

Team rapport is essential for building the momentum that is needed to grow a startup.

A staggering 97% of employees agree that lack of alignment in teams has an impact on their performance.

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It’s your job to put the right personalities or skills together so that your team can perform at their best.

7. Consider investing in a recruiter

Anyone who’s built a team will tell you that it can be tough to find the right people.

Posting a job listing on a job board won’t cut it.

I highly recommend that you get help with building your team.

You can consider hiring a recruiter.

Yes, it will cost you money.

If you don’t have the time or ability to find the right people, the cost may well be worth the potential gains.

There are also more cost-effective options.

You can leverage your personal and professional networks.

A social network like LinkedIn is perfect for this. In fact, 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn.

How to Recruit on Facebook ERE

In addition to finding professionals who are a right team fit, you can also use LinkedIn to generate leads for your business.

It’s a win-win.

8. Avoid homogeneity in your team

Earlier I referenced the importance of diversity.

Picture a team that’s similar in every way.

They all have the same personality. They all work the same way. They’re all driven by the same things. They all think the same.

It sounds like a total disaster, right?

In case you’re not following me, I’ll explain why homogeneity is potentially dangerous for startups.

There won’t be much room for creativity

If everyone conforms to the same identity, there will be no new ideas.

I see this with organizations that dictate every aspect of their employees’ work lives.

It kills creativity.

And no startup can flourish without creativity.

Everyone will have the same blind spots

Homogeneous teams will inherently have similar strengths and weaknesses.

In other words, there’s no one to create balance.

If everyone has the same weak spots, there’ll be no one to check each other’s performance.

Mistakes will be made.

And it can be devastating to the success of your startup.

You also want there to be some degree of pushback within your team. This way, you can build as robust of an operation as possible.

9. Get your team members to buy into your vision

You can’t talk about startups without discussing vision.

An essential part of success in business is crafting a vision and selling your team on that big picture.

Some businesses prefer not to communicate that ultimate goal with their teams.

Considering that a whopping $37 billion is lost every year due to miscommunication and employee misunderstandings, I’d say that’s a misguided approach.

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If your team is not invested in that grander vision, you’ll have a hard time keeping employees motivated.

But if you want star performers who over-deliver, you have to get your team to buy into your grand plan.

Let it be their vision too.

I promise you that it will transform their performance.

This is also an important factor if you want to attract the best talent.

The reality is, those who are at the top of their game won’t be short of employment options.

In these cases, having a compelling vision and culture can make all the difference.

Excellent candidates are looking for more than just monetary benefits. They’ll consider what you stand for, and your leadership style.

What does this mean for you?

Before you even set out to hire a team, take the time to craft a company culture. It will be one of your greatest weapons when it comes to hiring extraordinary talents.

10. Take some lessons from the sports industry

If two industries are alike, it’s sports and business.

If you’re vaguely familiar with how sports teams operate, you know that the following holds true.

  • Every team member has a role that is their primary concern.
  • You’re only held accountable for your performance.
  • You’re trained to have the agility to switch up your play as the game changes.
  • Competitor analysis is a vital part of your training.
  • You never lose sight of your driving force.

It’s unbelievable how much these principles apply to business.

The bottom line is, you need to put your team in a position to succeed.

The points above, straight from a sports coach’s playbook, are critical to ensuring that happens.

Here’s how these strategies translate to team building.

  1. Train your team to do their jobs well. No matter how competent a person you hire, training should be continuous.
  2. Everyone should be hyper-focused on their particular roles. Team rapport is important, but it won’t come together if people can’t perform on an individual level.
  3. Ensure that your team has the skills and flexibility to deal with the ever-changing landscape of a business.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the competition.
  5. Listen to your team to know what their driving forces are. This way, you know what buttons to push to get the best performance out of each person.

11. Stay true to the “hire slow, fire fast” mantra

You’ve probably heard this phrase before.

“Hire slow, fire fast.”

People interpret this in different ways.

The CEO of Zappos puts a unique twist on it. He offers new hires $2,000 to quit the company during the first week.

That’s their way of quickly getting rid of people who don’t fit the company culture.

But not all of us have the resources for such creative tactics.

Here’s how the “Hire slow, fire fast” mantra can apply.

Don’t settle for someone who’s not a right team fit.

Take time to consider the people who you’re bringing onboard.

If you just hire someone that you haven’t thoroughly evaluated, it will end up costing you more.

Inevitably, a poor fit will not last.

You’re going to have to spend more time and money looking for a replacement.

You can easily avoid that by spending a bit more time with the recruitment process.

What’s “fire fast” all about?

Think about it.

If you notice a team member is a bad hire, what’s the benefit in waiting months to pull the plug?

They’re going to keep making mistake after mistake.

The cost can be devastating.

You’ll spend more time and money cleaning up messes rather than actively growing your startup.

41% of companies say that a bad hire cost them at least $25,000.

Infographic How Much A Bad Hire Will Actually Cost You

The negative impacts are felt in every pillar of business.

Infographic How Much A Bad Hire Will Actually Cost You 1

That’s why it’s important to keep evaluating your team even after they’re hired.

This way, you can be on top of how individual performances affect business objectives.

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of training.

In any event, you’d know what you need to do for the efficiency of your team.


The verdict is clear.

The right people can set your business up for massive success.

By the same token, the wrong people can drive your business into the ground.

Luckily, there are many ways to ensure that the latter doesn’t happen.

Take the strategies discussed in this article and apply them to your team-building process.

I assure you, the quality of the team that you bring together will have an instrumental impact on your business.

What’s your best advice for building a superstar team?

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