Recently, at Paris’s Leweb conference, we asked startups in attendance a simple question: “what is your biggest problem right now?” Here is what they had to say:
Hiring and Growth
Far and away, the most common problem that startups in a growth stage experience is finding and retaining talent. Which is why it’s so important to think about building an effective team from as early on as possible. As I’ve said often here, for an accelerator, the team is everything. That isn’t just because a startup needs talent and experience in order to get funding. During our selection rounds for StartupYard, we met talented and experienced entrepreneurs who didn’t have a team. Their own personal talent and experience were not enough for us to accept them to the program; we didn’t take any single founders this year, nor did we in our 2014 round. The question isn’t wether we see these single founders as talented. They often are very impressive and hardworking. The question is, what will the founders do with the money when they get an investment? A single founder has hurdles that a group doesn’t face, because as a CEO of a newly funded company, he/she will have to start from scratch, not building a talented team of engineers, designers, and marketers, but building an executive team that will oversee the hiring of those people.
Delegation is a Zero-Day Vulnerability
Asking someone to invest themselves in a startup as an employee is one thing. Asking them to take ownership of it, and immediately evangelize, advocate and hire on its behalf, is quite another. A single founder has to find people who can do that, and that’s a major disadvantage. Startup founders are often surprised by how narrow their focus has to become once they get funded, and how little of their time they can spread to all the aspects of the company’s development. If you’re traveling to conferences and fundraising meetings for days and weeks at a time, you can’t oversee product development. If you’re running a major marketing campaign, you can’t spare time to talk to investors about more funding. The more milestones you achieve, the less time you will have to devote to the details that have gotten you this far- which is why a great team is so vital. Multiple founders take the pressure off each other, and they delegate authority, and enforce a common vision on multiple levels at once.
Early and Aggressive Recruiting Lowers Failure Risks
Many founders see funding as the key to hiring. “Once I get some cash, I can hire a great team!” That’s backwards, and here’s why: once you have cash, you’ll be hiring people who will only join your team because they’re being paid. They might be more talented, or more experienced, but will they really believe in your work and your vision? Will they carry that vision forward on their own initiative? You can’t know that for sure, and probably won’t know whether your hiring decisions were good ones for quite some time. You’ll probably never have a complete handle on your employee’s motivations. That’s fine if you’re Microsoft, but not if you’re a team of less than 10-20 people, where a single “goldbricker” brings the whole team down. On the other hand, if you can attract and hire people to work on your project before it is a moneymaker -before a real paycheck is assured- then you are much more likely to hire the types of people who will stick to you through your failures, as well as your successes. They may not be the most experienced, and their talents may not be proven yet, but loyalty can’t be bought for all the money in the world. Your early hires, if they come onto your team because they believe in it, and if they last, will be loyal. That’s something you can’t afford not to think about.