Help Me, Help You.
So you have decided to start a company. Bravo. What next? You have an idea, you are hungry and you are committed to making this the best company it can be. Kudos. The next step, and possibly the most crucial, is the assembly of your team. Whether you are starting this company with a partner or solo, the team you assemble during the company’s infant stage can determine whether or not your baby reaches adulthood.
Do not do it. Sure, there are some instances where friends have created fantastic companies that have gone on to become extremely successful. However, these are typically outliers and do not truly reflect reality. Typically, even the best of friends have not worked together on anything substantial. You can get to know a friend over dinner or even by training together at Shad, but only through extensive collaboration will you truly understand if this person is the right fit as an employee or co-founder. Furthermore, I would challenge you to ask yourself, “If I had to, could I fire my friend?” If the answer to this question is no, you are in for a rocky road if things ever hit a rough patch during the early growth stage of the company.
As we saw during the ProLab case, hiring family members brings with it an additional labyrinth of difficulties that can be very hard to navigate. If you are going to go down this path you have to establish very strict rules early on. All parties involved have to understand that there will be zero special treatment and no nepotism. Furthermore, there has to be a clear level of trust and communication. As the old adage goes, “you can pick your friends, you cannot pick your family.” If work conditions turn sour, you should also understand that partnering with family could severely dampen your exit opportunities. A family’s entire life savings could be tied to the success of the company. Ideally, this fact would likely drive each member to operate at consistently high-level. However, with so much at risk, pressure to succeed will be sometimes unbearable. I do believe that working with family brings more positives than working with friends. The key reason being that family has no choice but to stick it out until the very end.
My Tom Brady.
To wrap up, when starting a team the key is to focus on bringing in the best person for the role no matter what. You want to hire someone or co-found with someone that is credible and experienced. Your hires should have skills that compliment yours. When an investor looks at the make-up of your founding team they should see a Swiss-army knife of talent. Look for the qualities that you are lacking, and thoroughly ensure that each member of your founding team bring at least one of the key traits that you are missing. Furthermore, your co-founder/founding team should fully understand and believe in your mission. Long-term and short-term goals need to be aligned from Day 1, so that the company can move forward in unison. Find your Tom Brady – that teammate that won’t fold under pressure or balk at doing the necessary dirty work.
So again, I commend you for having the fortitude for wanting to start your own business. Remember, it is easy to have a baby but it is much harder to raise one.