Getting the initial team right is perhaps one of the most important determinants of startup success. An entrepreneur cannot do everything and so needs to get an equally passionate set of colleagues who can help build the product and get early customers. Getting the first hires right is perhaps the single most important challenge for the early stage entrepreneur.
Why will anyone join a high risk business which has a 99.99% chance of failure? This is where the entrepreneur’s persuasion skills come in. Very rarely can the entrepreneur pay market salaries so money cannot be a draw. A vision of tomorrow’s world, the entrepreneur’s infectious passion, the thrill of a rollercoaster ride, the opportunity to learn – all have to come together to attract talent.
Putting together an initial team that complements each other is critical for success. Entrepreneurs must recognise what they are not good at – and then work to bring in others who can plug in those gaps. If one is very good at building a product, then someone who is good in sales is needed – and vice-versa. Every venture must have a good technology person – because almost everything today has tech at its core. Forming this initial team and ensuring that the key team members get along well with each other is the entrepreneur’s primary responsibility. This is the kernel which will build the venture.
While deep skills are required for each of the functional roles, it is also important to bring in people at the start who are open to filling in whatever is needed. Startups do not necessarily have clear and well-delineated job descriptions; there are days when a critical emergency will need everyone to chip in. A “that-is-not-what-I-was-hired-for” mindset is not what is needed. A software developer may need to double up as a customer service rep or even do a sales call. Flexibility, an open mind, a positive attitude and the ability to work well as a team are important attributes that the entrepreneur must look for in the initial hires.
My initial IndiaWorld team was built from the remnants of my previous failed venture. I did, at that time, make my best hiring decision – getting my wife, Bhavana, to start working with me. We had been married for a year and she had seen me stumble into a morass of my own making through this year. I asked her to help me because I did not then have the money to hire someone else. Little did I know then about her versatility. In those early years, she became the soul of IndiaWorld – doing everything that was needed with a smile. It is a work partnership that has endured to this day! Sometimes, maybe the best first ‘hire’ is your better half!