Business Insider has a typical teaser headline: The best advice billionaire AOL cofounder and investor Steve Case gives entrepreneurs is a truth about long-term success. I don’t believe in teaser headlines but I do recommend the article. .
In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” Case said the best advice he can give to entrepreneurs is that building a productive team of people with complementary skill sets is of utmost importance.
It’s got some pithy quotes from Mr. Case, including: the common saying, “If you want to go quickly, you can go alone. If you want to go far, you must go together,” This sums up the cost – need for shared decision making, and the benefit – more brainpower and experience – of partnerships.
Case considers the best advice he gives as, “It ultimately comes down to people and teams, that entrepreneurship is a team sport, it’s not about any one person.” He warns against the ego boost that can come from external expectations of the founder. “The founding CEO tends to get most of the attention, but it really is a team effort,” he said.
CEOs remind me of quarterbacks in football. When the team wins they get all the credit; when the team loses they get all the blame. Well there are 22 players in modern football, 11 on offense and 11 on defense, no to speak of another 11 on special teams, so it’s way off the mark to give the quarterback so much credit or so much blame. And of course pro football teams have squad of about about 53 players plus another dozen on the practice squad. And companies range from dozens, to hundreds to thousands of employees. Here’s another great quote from Case on teams:
If you get the people right, almost anything is possible,” he said. “If you don’t get the people right, I’d argue nothing is possible.
These quotes all come from the This is Success podcast.
I virtually never see a full management team at my mentoring sessions because most of my mentees are at the zero stage and it’s usually just one or two founders. But what I also don’t see is a hiring plan to bring on the balance of the management team and even director level and individual level staff below that. I started my first company with a detailed spreadsheet listing position, hiring date, and projected salary for the first dozen or so hires beyond the management team, so I’m amazed that most of the founders I see have barely thought beyond hiring another engineer!
There are multiple reasons to have a team:
- Startups are a lot of work. Spreading work amongst a group means the company is not totally dependent on a single individual, which is very risky.
- No single person will have the engineering, marketing, sales, and support skills and experience to fill all those roles.
- All founders have strengths and weaknesses. I was taught long ago by successful entrepreneur Bill Warner not to try to strengthen my weaknesses but rather to hire staff with complementary skills to mine and to leverage my strengths.
- All teams needs a variety of perspective, which only comes from a diversity of teams. Research has shown that diverse teams – men and women, whites and people of color – make better decisions than homogenous teams.
- You can’t be two places at once! Successful companies are usually national in scope if not international. No matter how smart you are you can’t be negotiating deals in New York, Austin, Beijing, and Silicon Valley simultaneously.
- Managers only have so much reach, meaning they can only direct so many staffers before they hit overreach. That number varies with the individual, but all individuals no matter how talented and experienced have a limit. The buspeak term is “span of control.” Even if it’s as high as 20, that’s a drop in the bucket in a company of 1,000.
Personally, lacking any individual skills aside from being good at recruiting talent, I love working in a small team. The best ideas always get better, the bad ideas get killed off. And it’s much more fun. That’s a term rarely used in the startup world, but if you aren’t having fun you will burn out. Have some, it’s free.
Unfortunately Steve Case does not go on to provide advice on how to build a team. However, I have a post based on an interview with Julie Larson-Green of Microsoft. There you will find some actionable tips on how to build a team. Another post I can recommend to you is Talent Tracking, which you need to start now, if you haven’t already.
If you want to build a product you can do that by yourself or with another engineer or two. But if you want to build a company that will take a team. This requires you to know thyself, the absolutely necessary first step for any would-be founder.