Use this system to assemble a winning startup team

By marco ·  May 26, 2020

Many times we see companies as these majestic entities of innovation and success. Constantly creating, delivering and distributing products in an unparalleled manner. Think Apple. Tesla. Amazon. And after a while, you might forget that behind the scenes, all these companies are still just well-organized groups of people (with some machine enhancement) producing these extraordinary results. Each person has a function, intention and a shared direction- and together they accelerate the company to God-like speeds of growth. In this post, I’ll share some lessons on how to choose better people to enable success. 

There isn’t a company in the world that was “great” the moment it started. Starting a company means starting at zero.

Regardless if you’re well-connected, have started many companies in the past, or have lots of money to invest; every time you start a new venture, you start at zero.

You may be able to raise funds faster, you may be able to get first users for your product through your network, or generate initial brand awareness, but in the big picture; that of the market, the consumer, it’s all irrelevant.

The market only cares about the product, what it produces and how well it solves their inherent needs and problems. 

A product with huge churn and zero distribution is simply not going to be successful even if its founder is a mega-star. 

And so there is something strangely sobering and honest in this whole ordeal of starting companies. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you start – every single time you start, you start at zero. It’s a level playing field for all.

And you’ll have to push the company through various “levels” until one day, you look back and see your company has become great.

I envision it like this: 

As a company, getting through these levels is something that comes down to one thing and one thing only: people.

People have this extraordinary talent to make bad products OK. Turn OK products to good ones. And make good products great.

They have the talent to make unknown products known. To fix broken funnels. To stop leaky buckets. And to optimize campaigns so that cost per acquisition stays below revenue per acquisition.

If your company is the static vehicle on a scale of levels, people are what moves the vehicle back and forward, allowing the company to change levels.

If you think this sounds mysterious: it’s actually very simple. Hire a great person with a ton of experience and just watch individual metrics increase. The metric increase is a direct reflection of your company “levelling-up”.

Hire a bad person and KPIs plummet.

Hire a team of great people, and, well you’ve guessed it, companies skyrocket.

So in a nutshell; your company is always part of a hierarchy or a scale and people are the most important variable in the world that help companies flow through these levels better and faster.

The importance of choosing the right people is therefore at the core essence of business survival, innovation and progression.

You probably knew that hiring was important, but I might have spiced it up a bit, right?

Let’s get into some traits how to recognize great people:

Whereas every recruiter in the world has learned to analyze people by their:

  • Experience
  • Communication skills / soft skills
  • CV
  • Impression during an interview

I’d like to share a few more in-depth traits which can help you make better hires. 

Here they are: 

  1. Emotional awareness
  2. Type of people (enablers vs. doers)
  3. Speed and agility
  4. Goals and purpose
  5. Self-management (getting things done)

1. Emotional awareness

Have you ever noticed that there are some people you work with who just suck the life out of you?

And others who simply reinvigorate you every time you’ve talked to them?

Good, you got to read this.

If you’re building something for the long haul, you’ll want people in your business who are of the 2nd type. This can mostly be defined by something such as “emotional awareness”.

The higher a person’s emotional awareness, the more they tend to create successful products, have healthy communication and show mental perseverance.

The lower a person’s emotional awareness, the more they tend towards negativity & conflict.

There is a very simple method to figure out which one a person is: Just listen!

Listen to people and hear them speak. Are they speaking to build something up or are they speaking to tear something down?

And here, you’re not looking for individual sentences to confirm your bias about anyone’s personality. You’re looking at the general attitude the person brings in every day.

Is it a “let’s create” or “let’s bash” attitude?

Are they creating problems or solving problems? 

I can already tell you now that there isn’t a company in the world, an ethical company that is, that got successful with a bunch of unhappy, unmotivated, ‘let’s destroy’ type people. If you want your company to be able to level up, take people who generally carry a positive attitude in life.

Luckily, it’s already a natural habit to choose people who you’d like to hang around with in the office, but even if you have the choice between a “10-out-of-10-skill” type person who brings bad vibes and an an “8-out-of-10-skill” person who brings good ones, ALWAYS pick the one with a great attitude.

If your company is great despite having the first type in the organization; your company would be even better without them.

Disclaimer: every person is allowed to be upset, frustrated or annoyed sometimes. That’s life. We’re talking about chronic and persistent bad attitudes. 

2. Types of people

Every person is different. Yes we know.

But in business people have roles and these roles are closely tied to personality strengths. Similar as in an orchestra, a band or a soccer team, not everybody can be the star or have the same role.

You want to create a team that is well-balanced.

I remember this German saying about football (soccer for my Americans): “in a well-functioning team, you need to have players who carry the piano, and you need a few to play the piano”.

If you’ve seen Michael Jordan’s Last Dance, you know what I’m talking about.

There would be no MJ without Scottie Pippen.

There is no Batman without Robin.

No Barney without Ted. (not sure if that one applies, but you get the point)

And exactly the same dynamic applies to business. 

There are basically two types of people you need:

1) Doers
2) Enablers

If you have too many “doers”, your company becomes a chaotic mess.

Doers are people who generally “get shit done”. They are very creative,  have a solution to every problem, and make sure your company will always be out there advertising, improving and changing things. They’re vital for a company’s success.

However, Doers are not great administrators. They don’t track data well. Documentation gets lost. Data goes missing. They’re naturally “DOING” a lot and so that alone makes the whole thing unsustainable.

A group of Doers might be able to Skyrocket a company, but it will definitely not stay there.

Now let’s check Enablers. Enablers are simply people who enable Doers.

They do this through organization. 

Organizing data. Creating processes. Keeping structure.

Enablers are often undervalued because they don’t get as much praise as Doers.

However, they are essential for any team as they keep the road ahead clear for Doers to unleash their full potential.

Nonetheless, a team of Enablers alone would get much less done. Enablers often plan and process things to the very end, whereas a Doer would have simply done it.

A manager should usually be an “Enabler”.

A person facing the market should usually be a “Doer”.

In your team you’ll want to have as many Enablers as you have Doers.

Naturally startups tend to prefer Doers while they get started, but the larger the team gets, the more important Enablers become. 

So when you hire for key functions — always check whether the person you’re trying to hire is a “Doer” or an “Enabler”. And make sure that it matches the current distribution in your team.

Two Doers in your team might get in each other’s way.
Two Enablers in your team may get much less done.

There are a few Gems in the market who are both Doers and Enablers — these are generally the most successful people you’ll find in any company.

And you know, this isn’t to create a black and white scenario. Every person is always some of both, but generally one tends to be more of one than the other. Also, it’s not necessary to find these perfect-balanced Gems.

A great distribution of different types of people will do the trick. 

3. Speed and agility

One of the common denominators of fast growing companies is that they execute at a tremendous speed.

They hire, fire, execute, experiment, communicate, understand, improve things and all at a great speed. When you hire, make sure that every person you’re hiring for has the same speed & agility which is currently in your team.

When you don’t, it creates asymmetry and the functioning of your team breaks down.

People who are fast don’t get stuff done. People who are slow are constantly in stress.

A team is best in harmony when people with similar speeds work together.

4. Goals and purpose

One of the most important aspects of life which keeps most of us busy is the following: purpose.

So it’s not strange to assume that when work constitutes the majority of life, it should carry some purpose.

Companies often like to glamorize their purpose: “we’re an online pet shop and are changing the world by making pet owners more happy thus enabling pet owners to improve the world”.

Personally, I think WeWork’s purpose was pretty funny too: “Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness”.

If only all property businesses would do this, well then we would have no more problems I suppose!

Ok, but enough banter. The point I’m actually trying to make is that I believe companies are way overdoing the whole purpose thing.

Purpose can be simple:

– I get to work with a nice group of people on an exciting product
– I get appreciated for my work and for what I do
– I get to improve my own life and those of my family with the money I earn
– I get to create new things every day
– I get to be part of something bigger than myself
– I get to be part of this group of people I can consider friends

And you know, I suppose that many of us would see purpose in these simple facts in our everyday life.

And so for companies, this means that you don’t have to overdo the big complex stuff.
But rather focus on the everyday small stuff.

Give people purpose by acknowledgement, creating a great group of people to work with, giving them autonomy to create, letting them be part of something bigger and enable them to make friendships and have fun. THAT IS PURPOSE. 

So long story short: every hire you make should contribute to purpose.

We all give each other purpose. Make sure you add people to the team who are able to build purpose by their behavior and actions.

5. Self-management (getting things done)

Any growth marketer knows that processes beat tactics.

The reason is that while tactics may get you results in the short-term, processes outlast and outperform them in the long run.

Most B2B SaaS companies have some sort of clear processes of how they define leads, follow-up with leads, qualify leads and then nurture them to conversion.

This creates stability, trust, predictability and reduces chaos for the entire company. On a macro level, you simply know how things are done and you follow the process.

However, on a micro level, you need people who can self-manage on an operational level too.

They need to have processes for themselves that are predictable ways of getting things done.

If you hire people who lack self-management, it creates incredible margins for chaos.

Example: I’m launching LinkedIn Ads (halfway-through). Ok, no, I’m going for Google Ads (halfway-through). Ok, no, content should be better. (Wrote 250 words). I don’t like these words. Ok, back to LinkedIn. Etc. etc. 

Now replicate this for a 100 people in your company and you can imagine what happens. 

Even the most creative type of people in the world need some structure in order to move things forward. 

And so when you hire people, just think of this.

Every company consists of people. People make your company successful.

Every person is able to produce results to the extent that they are able to manage their own tasks, time, deadlines and communications.

If you hire a creative, non-organized brilliant type, that’s great. Just make sure you hire an enabler also.

If you hire a brilliant enabler, make sure they are enabling someone 😉

Written with 💙 

About the author

Marco Van Bree Marco is the Founder and CEO of Zengrowth. He loves marketing, distribution and growth and has been helping SaaS companies achieve better results for the last 5 years. You can wake him up for pizza and pick his brains about anything chess related. He is also into self-development and loves sharing his learnings in business.
marco image