How to build an awesome team for your new company
When building a new company, the right team is the most important factor of being successful. Without a strong team, the idea will stay just that, an idea. The most successful startups I have ever seen are a product of the right team, not a groundbreaking idea or snazzy website.
I speak to founders on a daily basis about a common theme — they have an idea and are looking for co-founders, but can’t find someone who is passionate about their idea. They trod along, endlessly bouncing from one tepid conversation to the next, unable to convince anyone who could be valuable to join their new company. Does this sound familiar? I have been there for one. I’m betting every seasoned entrepreneur has gone through this at some point.
It’s a classic chicken or egg problem— how do you build a team without an amazing idea, and how do you develop an amazing idea without an amazing team?
I have a good friend, James Miles-Lambert, who founded Hello Health Group in Vietnam. We were living together in Saigon when he launched in 2015. He is an amazing example of how to overcome this challenge. His motto — “sell the vision”. I must have heard him sell the vision of Hello on the phone a million times that summer.
In principle, Hello Health Group is a website that provides health and wellness information in local languages for consumers in southeast Asia, pretty straightforward on paper. Would investors and potential co-founders get excited about this? Probably not. The company would have probably never gotten of the ground if it was framed this way — because it lacks vision. It’s painfully practical and lacks any ethos as to why this company needs to exist.
Today, Hello is a successful and thriving company. Why? Because James has never once described his company in this way. From his mouth, Hello is helping make the world a better place. It is providing knowledge of health and wellness to people who have never had it before. It is democratizing access to information that helps people live better, more enjoyable, and longer lives, and it plans on growing until everyone in the world has the same access to healthcare information as the English speaking world does. More exciting, no?
So how does this lesson apply to building the right team? It helps to illustrate the importance of selling the vision, especially in the beginning of a new company. James was able to raise a significant seed round and build an amazing team for Hello before they even had a website.
Humans are emotional creatures. To build a strong team with nothing more than an idea, you have to have a contagious enthusiasm in what you are building. You have to leverage every ounce of conviction you can muster in the future that you want to build. You have to convince people to follow youbecause you have a vision of the future that is better than where we are now.
Here are some practical tips I like to go by:
Craft a vision — this should be obvious, but if you don’t have a vision for you company you need to make one. Focus on what the future looks like when you are successful and why it’s better.
Drop your ego —one common theme I see driving founders’ inability to recruit a cofounder is their ego getting in the way. “Why should I have to convince someone to join my awesome company?” — Probably because only you think it’s awesome. Leave your ego at the door, humble yourself to the value other people can bring to making your vision a reality.
Understand what motivates someone — part of selling the vision is making sure it is something a potential co-founder actual cares about. If someone is motivated by money and power, painting a picture of a future which doesn’t include them being rich may not resonate. Know your audience. Focus on the parts of your vision that you know they care about most.
Get to know someone, on and off the field — to the point above, it is important to actually get to know someone in multiple settings. I can’t tell you how many times I have met someone I thought was great in the office and hated them in social situations. “Herodotus, the Greek historian, reported that the ancient Persians tended to deliberate on important matters while they were drunk. They then reconsidered their decisions the following day when they were sober.” Wisdom to live by.
Make sure they know what you value in them — my final tip is to be explicit about why you want someone to join your team. Are they an amazing engineer? Tell them how valuable that is to the company. Help them envision using their skills. Not only is it flattering (bonus), but it helps a potential co-founder feel confident in what they are bringing to the table. Lastly, it shows real tact and transparency as a leader.
Your great idea is only ever going to happen if you can build the right team, so get out there and start selling your vision.