Does the perfect startup team exist?

“The team is possibly the most important element of a startup”. In this blog, we speak to ProVeg Incubator Mentor Nick Willer about finding the right founding team for a startup. 

Nick is the founder and owner of ACT – Advanced Coaching and Training – a Network of over 600 coaches, trainers, and consultants in Berlin. He is the chairman of the Bundeskommission für Startups und Unternehmensgründungen of the BVMW, Germany’s largest SME-Association. Nick loves coaching and consulting startups and other companies that want to make a change in the world. 

Why is the team such an important element of a startup?

“The team is maybe even the most important element. In the end, everything is based upon the people who are running a project. How they fit together regarding their skills and personalities is absolutely crucial for the success of a startup. Unfortunately, the best idea in the world is not worth very much if you don’t have the right people to execute it. 

“Money is always a big point as well, but it can be a trap at the same time. If you start with a lot of funding, but the team does not fit well together, it is possible that you will find this out too late. Money can cover up insufficiencies in the team for some time. I personally do not know any decent investor, who does not look very thoroughly at the team before investing.”

What does the perfect startup team look like to you?

“The personalities have to fit together. This does not mean that founders should be identical, it’s good to have different characters, skills, and personalities on the team. However, they should complement one another. Even some conflicts or differences of opinion can be positive. Too much harmony can be a false friend because it can lull you into addressing potential problems (which will happen) too late. 

“On the other hand, deep respect and appreciation for one another is the basis of being able to solve issues effectively. If those elements are missing, conflicts can escalate and endanger the whole project, instead of speeding it up and sharpening it, as they should. 

“The Share Structure is another important point here. How a team is organised should be recognised as fair when considering the value of each person’s input. Contributions include ideas and inventions, time, and money. 

“You should not only think about the here and now but consider the future as well. How does your Share Structure fit, if your company makes a million or more a year? is a question you will hear very often in my coachings. 

“You have to make sure that the input of each team member is recognised fairly and grows with the size and demands of the company. Vesting-models can be a good option if you are not sure about the future output and development of each team member. 

“Last but absolutely not least: What are the motivations of each team member? Do they fit together and is there a common goal uniting the team? Motivation is what will carry you through the tricky times, so make sure this is synchronised and strong enough to do so.”

Co-founders of Pläin, Michael Sysoev, Julia Deuter, and Jonathan Herrmann

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

“Keep in mind the recommendations above and remember that at this point you have the choice about who to work with. 

“Good questions to ask yourself are: What is really missing in my team now and what will be required in the long term? People are often a little short-sighted when they are extremely involved with a project or situation, for example when identifying gaps in an existing team. 

“Take away the pressure. Ask yourself how the person you are considering for a role will work with you and the growing demands of your company in the long term. If you are sure it all fits, then make a fair deal. The shares you give out should fit with what you get in return from a co-founder.

“Good expectation management is crucial at this point as well. Is the potential co-founder happy with the deal you are offering and will they continue to be happy with it in the future? Are his or her expectations about the coming work and the development of the company realistic? If not, you might encounter problems further down the road.”

What are the three top tips you would give startup teams to help them work well together?

“Always focus on the value everybody has to the team. This will keep up the respect and appreciation when you have problems.

“Make sure that everybody is 100% aligned to the goal and that you are all fighting for the same cause.

“Be fair and open with one another regarding company shares and duties. Be flexible enough to change everything, if your original deal doesn’t fit anymore.”