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June 23, 2020

Lessons for a first-time entrepreneur — The founding team is (almost) everything

You got nothing but your founding team when starting a company. There is a good chance you might believe an idea is more important. I can wholeheartedly tell you you are wrong. A solid team with a mediocre idea can go further than a mediocre team with a solid idea. Believe it or not, so many people have ideas, the ones who succeed are those who can execute the idea. If you can't execute, your idea has zero value. For this, the team is the most important aspect of a startup. The importance of this is also the reason why a large number of startups fail. Two of the most common challenges I encounter among the founding team can be attributed to incompatible skill sets among founders or unchallenged ego. If you can navigate these two challenges, you can increase the success of your startup.

Skills and experience matter

To start off, let's look at the composition of your team. When forming your team, look for people who complement your strengths and weaknesses. Avoid inviting another with the exact same expertise as you. The real value of a co-founder almost always comes from people with experiences and expertise you don't possess. For example, if you are the technical founder, you need people with business development and marketing background. Typically the success of a venture relies heavily on having these 3 skills among the founders. To increase your startup's chances of success, avoid thinking that you can somehow figure things out as you go. Recruit co-founders with skills you need and avoid trying to learn a completely new skill set just so you can make up for the gap your team is lacking. You already have so much to do, learning something new and making novice mistakes is something you can't afford to do while starting a business.

Ego, the extra person in the room

The biggest challenge generally comes from a founder who thinks they are more important than everyone else. This attitude will seriously hamper the progression of your startup. If it's allowed to continue unchallenged, it will create a toxic environment for all. Ultimately this discourages other founders from committing to their roles. If you got a co-founder with too much ego that it's hampering the development of your startup, speak up and address the issue. Resolve the issue before you go any further. Don't ever think that it will just go away eventually. Chances are, the problem will only get worse if the ego goes unchallenged.

Another critical aspect of dealing with an egotist is that they tend to view everyone as their employee — even the other co-founders. This usually results in an inability to discuss and make important decisions as a team. For the founders on the receiving end of this, the idea of building a startup turns into just another job they hate. The probable consequence of this is the collapse of the startup. Understand that you need your co-founders; otherwise, you would do everything on your own. Show them the respect they deserve, if you aren't willing to do that, then they shouldn't be your co-founders. At the end of the day, your co-founders are there to share in a dream, not to make your dream come true.

Add to that, when you are looking for co-founders, don't be one of those assholes who think you deserve most of the company and everyone else only a tiny bit because you think you are giving them the opportunity of their lifetime. If all of you are putting forth an equal amount of sweat equity, then all of you deserve a fair share of the company. Short-sightedness will surely chase away just about every intelligent person who could have made your startup a success.

From personal experience, I can tell you that on more than a dozen occasions, I actually had people offer me anywhere between 1-5% equity to build out their entire product. Their reasoning usually is, the idea is going to be worth billions, so 1-5% of many billions is a lot to give to some random person they just met :)

Final words

Think of your startup as a house you are building. There are going to be numerous pillars that hold everything together. Each co-founder is a pillar. Remove one pillar, the chances are that the whole house will come crumbling down.

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