Why talent is the ultimate competitive advantage

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Most founders I mentor are very early stage and unfortunately they tend to fixate on their idea to the neglect of building a team to execute it. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, as my mentees all come from MIT, a school of engineering. But it does surprise me how little thought is given to organizational design, recruiting plans, compensation and everything else that goes into building a world class team. Of course, ideas are important as are markets. But execution is what wins and it is the very rare founder who can execute solo – mainly an inventor who licenses their invention to another entity that brings it to market.

Diane Bryant, who spent 30 years at Intel then went to Google for a short time is now on the advisory board of a company called OWNZONES. She was interviewed in an article in Forbes.

Her three responsibilities as an advisor at OWNZONES are:

… I’ll be applying my three decade plus global and Silicon Valley technology experience to recruiting of top-tier talent, connecting OWNZONES to instrumental industry partners, and advising on their investments to further simplify the digital video supply chain.

Note that number one in her list is recruiting top-tier talent. And this Q and A with article author Johan Moreno explains why:

JM: When growing and scaling a business, what is one thing you have realized that money cannot buy? 

DB: Talent.  The best talent is not motivated by money, but rather by the opportunity to drive personal impact, work with others they admire and can learn from, and achieve team success.

The first limiter of every start-up I’ve advised is talent. The ideas are plentiful, the funding is available, the market is ripe.  Talent is the scarcity.  The best leaders attract the best talent. A leader’s job is to be a strong and compelling communicator of the vision and path to success, and then create meaningful and fulfilling opportunities for the employee to contribute and develop.

The caliber of talent that OWNZONES CEO Dan Goman has amassed is truly impressive and a key factor in my decision to join.  The technical domain expertise is deep and expansive, spanning cloud architecture, cloud-native application development, artificial intelligence, and video processing. Coupled with the technology expertise is an extensive knowledge of the media and entertainment industry and its market leaders. The foundation for business success is talent, and there’s no stronger a foundation than at OWNZONES.

If you take nothing more from this post than the bolded first sentence you will have absorbed a valuable lesson from a high tech industry veteran. To the best of my knowledge, Apple did not pay above market salaries during either of Steve Jobs’ reigns. In fact, they may have paid slightly below market rates. But what they offered was, in Jobs’ immortal words, the opportunity to “put a dent in the universe.” Apple was a mission-driven company and that mission, to make computing accessible to everyone by simplifying the user experience, was attractive to the the best talent in the world. And as the best talent want to work with the best talent (not just leaders, as Diane Bryant says, but as peers as well.) One of Steve Job’s many talents was the ability to spot talent and as a world-class sales person, to recruit world class talent. Burrell Smith, one of the key hardware engineers on the original Mac, was pulled out of the service  division by Jobs.

Google is another example of a company where recruiting world class talent was so important that one of the two founders interviewed virtually every new hire for years to ensure that only the best, brightest and most driven were hired.

Finally, as I explain to my mentees in search of capital, investors tend to rank the team as the number one criterion in making an investment. Not the idea. Ideas are cheap. World class teams are expensive and rare. A world class team will reject a poor idea and pivot to a better one, as Slack pivoted from games to corporate collaboration and communications tools.

There’s additional wisdom in Diane Bryant’s interview, but I like to focus on one main point in my posts and the main point from her interview is hire the best. Don’t settle. Give as much attention to building your team as to building your product.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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