According to Bernd Schoner, author of The Tech Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide: How to Bootstrap Your Startup, Lead Through Tough Times, Cash In for Success and The Tech Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide (McGraw-Hill, May 2014); assembling your founding team is a make-or-break move that every business faces. In fact, he says that it “determines the path and outcome of a new venture more than any other decision in the life cycle of a company.” In his new book, Schoner sheds light on the six core roles expected from the founders of new tech start up.
- The Prima-donna Genius: Not surprisingly, technical expertise is the one skill a high-tech founding team can’t do without. You need to have a genius or two to get your team off the ground. The genius’ competency can be highly specific. Let’s face it– your genius is your diva. They will ask for things you’re not sure how you’re going to get done. They will potentially ask you to take a chance on them and look you down with that passion in their eye that compels you to say “yes.” If you’re lucky, your genius will not only bring technical expertise to the table, but also a set of commercial contacts too– an entourage of sorts.
- The Leader: Running a new company in a consensus-driven democratic process has its limits, especially when hard decisions need to be made that affects everybody’s lives. Consensus usually requires compromise, which is not necessarily in the best interest of a new tech venture. A founder group with a clear leader in its midst has it easier. Being the leader doesn’t mean more stock or equity, nor does it mean the leader will necessarily be CEO. It just means that the co-founders trust one of their own and are willing to follow, even if there is conflict and controversial decisions need to be made.
- The Industry Veteran: Any competent marketer can study an industry, get quick insights into how it works, understand who the key players are, and identify products that may prove lucrative for a small venture. However, it takes a long immersion in the marketplace to call yourself an insider, to understand the subtleties of the competitive landscape, to have a strong network and recognise people who are true assets (oftentimes despite their titles), and to look through the propaganda of technical collateral and PR campaigns. That’s why the industry veteran is helpful.
- Sales Animal: Young high-tech companies are at constant risk of forgetting that they actually need to sell the wonderful technology they invented. A Sales Animal on the founder team helps to contain that risk. The combination of technical insight, founder authority, and sales experience is a hard-to-beat advantage in the competitive marketplace.
- The Financial Suit: Professional controllers and CROs are readily available for hire to fill the financial gaps on your team. Remember, though, that financial talent often has its own agenda. Understandably, they are trying to build a career, or make money quickly, or own as much stock as possible by the time your venture is readying itself for an exit. If you can put a skilled co-founder in charge of overseeing the finance function, you may enjoy a little bit of extra peace of mind.
- The Superstar: In the midst of silly little problems like ordering office supplies and keeping the office network running, it is easily forgotten how glamorous the role of high-tech entrepreneur can be. The world wants to think of tech founders as superstars, who are doing what the average man or woman cannot. Groom the superstar on your team and you can use her as the backbone of your marketing, recruiting, and PR strategy. Fortunately, almost any combination of eccentricity, nerdiness, and charisma qualifies a co-founder to become a star.
Every startup is different, but the roles he mentions make sense to me. I think one of the most important roles that some companies overlook is the role of client services. After your Sales Animal has closed a sale, it’s critical to keep customers happy and feeling cared about. Turnover in customer’s is hard on any business. Its even harder on a start up where resources are scarce and energy to find new customers is limited. Customers in a technology start-up may be called to serve as references for other potential customers or investors. Hence, in my opinion they should always feel like you are doing your best to do what’s right for them.
What do you think?