Let It Bleed: Expert Advice for Building Your Dream #Startup Team

Building a perfect team while also building a business can make or break any startup venture. Thanks to Startup Victoria, a panel of startup experts came together at last week’s gathering of Lean Startup Melbourne (with generous support from BlueChilli, General Assembly, The X Gene and hosts inspire9) to share their wisdom and insights.

To kick-off, Didier Elzinga, founder and CEO of Culture Amp gave a lightning talk on the theme of why culture eats strategy for lunch (a phrase often attributed to Peter Drucker). In a startup environment, culture is a key asset (especially in the beginning when you might not have much else…) so it’s not something you can easily pivot – in fact, culture is the fulcrum around which the business creates momentum. Most of us understand that our brand is our promise, but we often overlook that our culture is how we deliver it:

“Culture is what you are willing to bleed for, so who are you willing to bleed with?”

Didier then joined fellow panelists Tim Webster, formerly of Uber and now with Kllective, and David Hobson from Elance-oDesk to discuss how to build a successful startup team:

First, the team needs to feel a sense of connectivity, regardless of their workplace logistics. That means having opportunities to get together in person, and not just on conference and video calls. It will also be easier to establish and maintain a positive working environment among remote teams if the organisational intent is clearly stated from the start, backed by relationship building and appropriate communication tools.

Second, hire people for their core skills (hacker, hustler, hipster…) but only if they are also willing to learn, grow and evolve. It’s also essential to hire people in market. Use behavioural interview techniques to help identify the right people – whatever the role. Candidates are less likely to tell you what they think you want to hear; and it’s easier to explore how candidates got from one job to another (not so much what roles they have held).

Third, although you can outsource your IT, accounting, legals, HR etc., don’t outsource your culture. Getting the right fit of people to match what your culture needs is paramount. Set out the issues that aren’t negotiable or that you won’t argue about – but keep realigning with your culture to mitigate the risk of monoculture.

Fourth, focus on the end game – but don’t overlook the need/opportunity to seek new revenue streams. This diversification can be challenging for founders, but if channelled appropriately can result in ‘creative dissent’.

Finally, brand and culture are what customers think about when they hear a company’s name. So, this may require a balance between individual goals, and team and organisational outcomes.