If You Don’t Have a Truly Great Founding Team, Just Take a Pause. Don’t Start Your Start-Up Yet.

Ok I know this post and its title seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

But empirically, I can tell you isn’t.  Over the past 12 months, I’ve met with friends/colleagues/partners/ex-customers who are total rockstars and working on starting a company.  I mean, total rockstars.  (Yes, I know that’s an abused team).

What they don’t have is a good enough founding team:

  • Sometimes, if the prospective founder isn’t super technical, then the CTO/VPE isn’t really great.  They’ve got a rent-a-CTO.
  • Or if the founder is technical, and it’s SaaS, they just don’t quite have enough business and domain expertise on the team to really figure it out from a customer side (interviews, getting on a plane, proto-sales, market sizing and segmentation, etc.).
  • Or sometimes they are great, but the team members are just not great enough for their new C-level roles (CEO, CTO, CMO, CSO, CBO, C?O).

Yes, I know statistically, the odds are horribly against you when you do a start-up.  2000:10 or something.   The Series A Crunch.  Whatever.  It’s all true.

{I also concede that markets are, unfortunately, probably even more important than teams.  Controversial but I think true.  Great markets can make up for good but not great teams.  But great teams find great markets, so that doesn’t really matter}

But.

Personally, I don’t know of a single rockstar founding team that didn’t somehow, someway, scrape out at least a single.  At least an acqui-hire.  At least a soft landing, or a pay-everyone-back M&A.  I know there are plenty of contraexamples, but in my network, all of the great teams find a way to make something of their start-ups.  Sometimes a home run, sometimes a double.  At least a single.   But basically no one that is great, but without a great team, did.  A few, but they almost died doing it.

I guess here’s my point to my friends and colleagues anxious to do a start-up.  I hear you.  And Yes, you are Great.  But Wait.  Wait until you have a Great Team, a Truly Great Team.  Even if this opportunity passes you by.  Even if it takes 18 months.  And if your Team is Almost Great — this is the hardest one — you should still Take a Pause.

I’m not saying your team has to be 100% complete before you write a line of code.  Of course, that’s impossible.  But you have to have the rockstar team it takes you to get to reality, to pre-traction, on Day 1.

If not, suck it up and focus on team building.  You’ll somehow come up with another idea, another vision.

inspired by one point on my Quora answer here

2 comments

  1. Isn’t this another way of saying that if you don’t have great connections, and enough social capital to acquire A-players then the startup game is not for you? Capital is no longer the limiting factor in markets, it’s talent. If you don’t have the talent, personally, to attract a superstar team, then you are out of luck?

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