Startups · Project management

How do I spot and build a great team?

Bernard Ang Bottom line is to build lens to see a new world, rather than features to see an old world better.

August 19th, 2016

I have been building startups for the past couple of years and though they have not been qualified successes, I learnt much during this period. It's my real life MBA and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

People are important to me over a great idea (execution) and over the years, I find it difficult to find a great partner and team. 

I've gone through shoddy tech folks who are not least passionate about the project, naturally, they produce dump and irresponsibility. 

I've tried matching up with a Tech partner who has a day job like me, but he ended up being consumed by the daily grind of life. Nothing wrong in that but I couldn't race with speed bumps on a highway.

I have also encountered teams who are want to change the world, but only for the first month. The daily grind, loss of interest in the project subject and a dispersed focus blunted the edges.

I'm not quite giving up, though I understand I need to pivot (similar projects were conceived during this period) and I managed to define the project better during this period. 

I am currently deciding between partnering with a Tech fellow day-jobber or outsourcing the project to a team overseas. I have had poor experiences with both before and have my doubts. So far, the team overseas have been responsive and thrown ideas and initiatives into the works. 

I have also started to re-examine from within, if it's a hustling nature that does not allow me a good match with talented folks who might be otherwise suffocated by my pushing on, adhering to milestones. I've tried backing off and the project just died on its own. 

Any feedback or advice on this?

Much appreciated. 

Bob Graham Engineering and Software

August 19th, 2016

I struggled with this for a while but I feel very confident I do know the key now.
The key is with yourself, which is good news!

First, you can only get out of someone else what you want to put in.
You have decided you are the business side of this relationship and you need the technical side. That's understandable. Now let's pretend I'm the tech guy.

Things I Care About:
-Can I hang out with you?
-How much say do I get?
-How much equity do I get?
-Why should I trust you if I have to do most of the up front work?
-What have you validated about your idea?
-Do you have any useful skills you can quantify other than "business"?
-Can you do design?
-Can you do analytics and measurement?
-Can you get investors?
-Can you get customers? How?

It really comes down to this in my experience:
How does the tech guy know this isn't just an idea you thought up, then he's supposed to build for 6 months every day hoping it will work?

What assurances can you give him?

So one way you can combat the struggle is to give him assurances.
-Line up key partners before you meet him
-Get pre-sales
-Learn to build landing pages and smoke test your idea
-Get real numbers, data and proof there's some market validation
-Run customer development interviews and get data
-Do a wizard of oz MVP (fake it and prove there is merit to the idea)
-Go raise investment early on
-Build an online forum or community around your idea
-Get some more skills like design, growth hacking, online marketing, analytics, etc

Another thing you can do, if you don't want to do all of this, is you can:
-Learn to code yourself
-Figure out how to strip it down to something tiny and pay for someone to build it

It's hard to say more without knowing what your goals are. A friend of mine never gives advice unless he knows the person's goals he is giving advice to first and I love that.

In my own personal experience, I feel I could find a co-founder very fast now, because I would pre-validate the idea, raise money, get customers, wizard of oz MVP it, do customer development and smoke test the hell out of it before even talking to someone.

Having said that, you don't just want any cofounder who can code. That's not great criteria for your business partner. They are your other half. Your ride or die buddy. Trust is important. So you have 2 problems. 1) You can't find a co-founder and 2) You certainly can't find one who fits all those criteria.

If your goal is to get a tech startup built, and you want a great co-founder in my experience if I were doing it now, I'd start by really expanding my skills in:
-Maybe coding (even enough to hack)
-Customer development
-Raising money

Maybe you have those skills I don't know. But they will certainly help make you more attractive to a co-founder.

I should add that I did end up learning design, becoming a full stack software engineer etc, and I help code at my startup even though I am not the CTO. It's really helped the relationship and honestly, it is such a better feeling to be actually able to help. If you are like me, you probably REALLY don't like hearing that news haha. But I can say, it's not as hard as I thought if you make a commitment that you are going to learn no matter what and just do a little each day. 

It takes 1-2 hours a night for a year to learn how to code. You could be sitting here in a year with the same problem, or you could have it solved. I decided to just learn and even though I have an amazing and talented CTO, I am glad I did learn. Its also much better for the business because I know how building little things affects the code base and how much of a bitch some things can be to make. I think about software MUCH differently.

I hope that helps. Take what you like, leave the rest. It's just one man's opinion.

Daniel Donaldson founder of Ruby on the Beach - no-burnout tech bootcamps for digital entrepreneurs

August 20th, 2016

Hey Bernard,

Your problem is the exact issue that my group is working on. There's this asymmetry between non-tech founders (who almost always have the key insight that makes a business fly), and tech founders, who often have no real gift to give the startup, beyond their tech expertise. Having been on the tech side, I plead guilty.

Of course, getting to a prototype/PoC is obviously crucial, and you need tech ability for that. Entrepreneurs are usually very passionate and single-focused on their innovation, and have mastered the details of the sector they're innovating in, while tech guys - really good tech guys - are focused on tech, and at the same time awash with opportunities, but also don't usually have much passion for the sector itself (unless it's a dating app). So you either end up paying them a ton, or yielding equity.... you know the story. Meantime, you probably don't really understand what the implications of tech decisions will be - things that can rear up later and jeopardize what you've built, or prevent you from even getting to prototype (especially when funds are scarce).

So, we've built an entrepreneur's incubator, which is focused on getting the prototype built, without the encumbrances of tech partnership and heavy capital needs at an early stage. We've run many tech bootcamps, that make it clear that anyone with the drive and brains to be an entrepreneur is someone who can learn to code. So our program combines a bootcamp-style education with a team of coders who work with the entrepreneur to build the initial stage app/service, after the bootcamp concludes.

Our participants are junior-level devs when they complete the education part, but they now know more than enough to be full participants in the tech development process. We pair your project up with a senior lead dev who codes, but more importantly helps make the crucial architectural decisions, and creates a roadmap for the project; and an intermediate level dev works fulltime with you and the senior dev to build it all out. But you, as entrepreneur are a full, coding participant, which gives you a lot more control and understanding of what you're doing, and allows you to actually understand the implications of the tech decisions that often bite you later.

The program works more like Angel investment than a bootcamp - there are no fees, but we do a lot of diligence, expect you to answer the same questions and more that an angel would look at - and we take a slice of the company. After the program, our partners can act as a next-stage to continue development, find VCs, connect you to partners and technologies that can push your idea to the next stage. We can even help you pull a team together for ongoing independent development.

And like our original bootcamp, it all runs in amazing locations that are designed to eliminate distractions, increase focus, and support both the learning and building. A lot of the advantages of offshoring are built in - we work (currently) out of Bali, and we tap into a great programming and development community there - while our senior devs are usually americans.

We're in the late stages before launch, where we're going to open up the application process. If you - or anyone else here with an entrepreneurial focus but no tech capabilities - want to know more, drop me a line via facebook, or email (on the site). You can also schedule a time to talk on Skype from the site if that works better.

Looking forward to hearing from you....and whoever else.

Rita MA CEO Avanti Leadership Group - Executive Coach

August 21st, 2016


Here is what should be very clear to you (and written down) before looking for partners or team members:

What do I want to build and why?
How important is it to me and why?
Am I building something to last or something to sell?
Can I do it alone? If no, why not?
What are my greatest strengths? What are my gaps? (relating to what I want to build)

If you determine you want to attract others to this dream, then can you answer these questions?
- What do I imagine us doing and being 6 months into this business?
- What kind(s) of people do I want to work with and do I need?
- Where do those people hang out? How can I meet them?
- What is the Value Proposition that I am offering to these others?

On the practical side:
Do I need full time or part-time people? Contract or employees? Why?

Diversity on your team is critical. Yet it is your work to align diverse people to the vision. Avoid bringing people on because they are "just like me".

You want team members who are:
1) Self-aware & can clearly articulate what they want out of this effort
2) Their own vision aligns with yours
3) They have the time to devote to the initiative

Hope this helps a little!

Julian Jennings-White Product(s) and/or Service(s)

August 20th, 2016

Figuring out what youre good at and delivering on that will bring you success. Talented folks are not interested in providing free lunches. Enviado desde mi iPhone

Edward Hooks Real Estate Advisor at Engel & Völkers Denver South

August 20th, 2016

Bernard, It is difficult to change who we are, and not making goals and deadlines has proven a failed strategy, so i would say you are the right track. Finding partner who really gets the vision for the project and can persist is a matter of picking up rocks in a river. If you dont put the wrong ones down, you cant pick up the next one.

Philip Miller Founder at Hempies™ Paper Inc.

August 20th, 2016

Dear Bernard. Watch the film “Zeitgeist" and then devote your life to anyone that is trying to save the world from mankind. Success. Philip Miller Founder OP-H Inc. Hempies™ Hempers™ Hempex™ People, Planet, Profit.

Mark Talaba Founder, Vision Former, serial entrepreneur

August 20th, 2016

Hi Bernard. People who pay close attention to the way other people behave in teams can become pretty good at identifying similarities and differences. Lessons learned can be very useful in decisions about people, working with people, and managing people. 30-odd years ago, my two business partners (behavioral scientists) realized that the psychological tests of the day (essentially the same ones still being used) were simply not designed to elicit teaming behavior. They envisioned, and eventually created, an actual ‘operating system’ of teaming based in concepts from physics and systems theory. The result is Teamability® - an hour-long online exercise that identifies and organizes fundamental elements of team interaction, with integrated management guidance and team analysis methods. Since commercial launch in 2012, 400+ companies on 5 continents have applied Teamability in the areas of selecting, developing, managing, and motivating both people and teams. For example, a fast-growing $300M company with 30% new-hire turnover added Teamability to its existing selection and hiring practices. From day one, and for 2 1/2 years thereafter, the company had Zero% new-hire turnover, while it grew by 500+ people. Startup incubators and university entrepreneurship programs have also used the technology. Teamability will help you understand your own way of teaming, and to quickly reveal the teaming qualities of a co-founder and/or development team. I encourage you to check it out. Best regards, Mark

Asdrubal Romero Director at The Founder Institute

August 20th, 2016

Of course I know your situation!!! It happened to me often in the past and all around me even more often. As a tip for my experience: I have started 35 different "entrepreneurship projects". 5 of them for profit. 2 learning times and 3 successfully. And had been part or witnessed from close distance other pair of dozen of project at incubators and labs. I can see this: Any real entrepreneurship needs a true CHAMPION HEART LEADER. It is a psychological profile. It is about endurance, stubbornness, *passion* and *vision*. If you look for literature about it you would find: True leader, visionary, pioneer, meta-characteristics of the successful entrepreneur. The rest of the group, should be *a team*. And for that, must have *the same personal interest *or passion about the goal or the activity. Or at least share common ethical values and interpersonal profiles. Stable groups are not about money, are about COHESION while being immersed into the dynamics and struggles of problem-solutions and attaining a KNOWN GOAL. That is why I created a tool for that. It resumes years of experience and knowledge from the recent science from researcher at MIT and throughout Europe. You can take a look at: Nevertheless I am accepting new team members, so if you want to join, as you have the same experience and problem I am resolving, you might love either jumping in or using it for your own endeavour. is a great solution for the problem you explained. It works precisely, nicely. It is nifty. I should also add that there is literature about "the parts of a organic team", and that complements the designing and creation of a team/company. The more complete and simple theory is the LEMON structure: A team must have a Luminary, a Entrepreneur, a Manager, a Organizer, and a Networker. Each of those post must be actively held by one or more people at the company, but also at each and every job/action. Who does the Luminary job or the Entrepreneur action at a distant Tech developer? .... That is why it usually works so bad. If it is a tech based company, the techie/promotor/visionary as a heart must be active INSIDE the daily activity. If you think the issue is more related to a personal "hustling nature" then what SynerGear offers is ideal for you.

David Austin Relentless problem solver and innovator.

August 21st, 2016

"they have not been qualified successes"

It sounds to me like you're attracting the wrong talent.  Don't get discouraged ... finding the right talent, real talent, from reliable people who can bootstrap and sacrifice and catch your vision is the entrepreneur's biggest challenge. You're very much in very good company.

I've found that to attract the real talent that's both believes in the product and is willing to really put some serious time into it, they have to believe in *you*.  Those with at least one or more great exits can attract whatever talent they want.  It's a winner takes all ... even if they were the benefactor of a fair bit of serendipity (it happens, despite what every success story will tell you).

You need to build your brand as a startup founder.  Develop a strategy to do that.  Use your successes however minimal to your advantages ... don't lead with "they have not been qualified successes".  Lead with "very experienced in startups".  Truly novel startups rarely become huge successes, and it is common to interpret every failure in this line of work as a learning experience that gets you that much closer to that huge success.

Bernard Ang Bottom line is to build lens to see a new world, rather than features to see an old world better.

August 21st, 2016

Hey Bob, Thanks for the advice. It's sound and I'm relieved it's a common issue that can I can place a better direction with now. 

In pursuit of building a platform, I recognise it would be good for myself to learn how to code, not just to help but more to understand the building blocks and the choke points. It can make me a more understanding co-founder. 

However, I also struggle with the fact that time is limited and I can only learn the basics and focus on my core strengths, hustling. I can only hope the learning never stops and I can become a competent coder some day!

I have checked all the boxes as criterias a potential Tech co-founder can match up to, however, I had some personal take-aways from raising funds too early. Market research did emphasize the proof of concept but despite having funds and a concrete problem to solve, the team dissolved from lack of grit. Regrettable. 

I am therefore more in view of bootstrapping now, with less pressures and more pleasure. 

Still, I always gain insight to what and how I can do things better, so thanks a bunch again, Bob.