Building Your Team: Focus on People, Not Jobs

When building a startup, we put strategic forethought toward product development, marketing, sales and other core functions. But all too often when building a team, we wait to dedicate focused attention until we feel pain.

That pain leads to a public cry for help…a job description posted on our careers site and out in the world via job boards, social media and our networks. The description is packed with a wish list of skills we wanted on the team months ago and a list of objectives that we think we wanted done yesterday.

After posting, we spend hours (weeks, months…) in a mind-numbing cycle of looking for the rare needle in the haystack among an inconsistent flow of mediocre inbound applications. Maybe we get lucky and find someone great.

More often, we squint hard to convince ourselves that the best of the bunch is a good enough fit – that we are better off having someone working on the problem today rather than waiting for the perfect candidate – or we begrudgingly spend a staggering amount of money on an outside recruiter.

In order to break this cycle, we need to focus team building activities around people not jobs.

Jobs are ephemeral, particularly in a dynamic, high-growth startup environment. If the person you hire stays at your company through the vesting period associated with their initial option grant, they will likely have at least a few different formal job titles in addition to the near-constant iterations associated with evolving goals, responsibilities and company needs.

In contrast, people have relatively immutable intrinsic characteristics and accumulated experiences that they bring to your company. It is these characteristics and experiences that make your best hires truly game changing for the trajectory of your business.

You don’t have to wait for acute pain to strategically build your team with the right people.

To shift your approach to team building from a focus on jobs to a focus on people, take the following steps:

Determine Key Intrinsic Characteristics

What inherent qualities are most important for people to possess so that they can make an exceptionally positive impact for your customers and your culture?

Define Profiles

Rather than specific job descriptions, create broad profiles that describe distinct groups of people you need to scale your business. For example, you might define a single profile which encompases early-career marketing, product and operations roles which draw on a similar toolkit.

Prioritize Networking

Create and schedule space to consistently invest in meeting new people who fit the criteria you defined in the steps above. Aim high – strive to meet the people you would love to work with regardless of the context. Networking is like healthy eating, the long-term benefit is real but it doesn’t feel as alluring in the moment as ice cream.

Nurture New Relationships

An intentional investment in networking will yield new relationships. Keep conversations warm with periodic check-ins, ask for referrals and offer your own. Aligning on timing requires some serendipity, but luck smiles on the prepared.

Set Goals, Measure Results and Iterate

Like any other strategic focus area in your startup, you should set specific goals, gather feedback, measure results and use the insights you collect to iterate on your approach.

Upcoming posts will provide more detail on how to implement each of these steps in your organization.  We’d love to hear about the challenges you face in building your teams and the ways you’ve overcome those challenges – please share via comments.

Thanks to my co-author for this post, Kendra Haberkorn. Kendra has spent her career focused on the different elements of the employee experience at companies including Craftsy, where she led the People function, McKinsey & Company, Sports Authority, Accenture and now Guild Education. Please feel free to contact Kendra via LinkedIn.

Startup Team Formation: Mentors, Advisors and Early Team Members

How much equity should you give early team members and why? This list includes mentors, advisors, board members and potential co-founders in your startup.

I’ve personally had challenges on this front and find it an area that benefits from experience (read as mistakes). I know I’ve both over-asked for equity in early days as well as been promised equity that never materialized and was forgotten after the company was sold. Neither was right and I don’t think either was nefarious – below are some ranges of what you should expect to ask for or offer… The context here is regarding the formation and early stages of the company.

Value is created when you build and grow a company – not when you found a company.


Mentorship is free – or at least should be. Mentorship is something you do to give back to your community. Yes, there are people that use it as a way to sell their services – but you’ll discover them soon enough. You should plan on buying the lunch/coffee/beverage.

One way to pay for mentorship is simple: pay it forward. Are you currently mentoring someone coming up behind you? Do they look different than you? The answer to both of these questions should be yes. You can always find someone that needs help who is a “couple of chapters behind you in the book.” What skill set do you have that you could mentor?

The point about not looking like you may seem simple – but the comment is about being intentional. Selection bias and our own networks tend to keep us insular. Dudes help dudes… white dudes help white dudes. Really? Branch out. Here’s a great article on Men who Mentor Women at HBR. I’m thrilled to say a friend of mine sent it to me because it reminded her of our relationship – that is something to be proud of, just saying.

If you find that you’ve met with a specific mentor on a recurring basis – don’t take the relationship for granted, make it more formal. Especially if mentors continue to show an interest and add value, consider moving them up the ladder to advisors. You want your company to survive and grow – it’s good to have aligned incentives. They may say no, and that’s okay, but the offer shows that you respect and value their time.


Advisors go from the informal mentors to a more formal and structured role that recognizes their contribution with compensation – usually equity.

Founder Institute did a great job putting together a matrix and Founder Advisory Standard Template (FAST) agreement, a five-page document that gets you to an agreement with equity assignment easily. The document is very straight forward, make two copies and fill in the blanks. You keep one copy and the advisor keeps one copy.

Here is the table: Note it’s broken into stage and roles. With roles come expectations for involvement. The more mature the organization and product, the less equity you will grant.  

Keep in mind, the numbers listed above don’t mean that you will get an advisor or an experienced advisor for that minor percentage. The Advisor has to decide what makes it worth their time and how much time/knowledge/effort they are willing to provide.

I know you’re excited about your idea, but that doesn’t mean they will be excited about it for any percentage that begins with the phrase BPS vs percentage of equity.

You could pay a couple of points for an advisory board member with the right experience.

To maximize the value of advisory board members, I’d recommend that you establish a quarterly meeting. It serves the forcing function of driving you to deadlines – also, it reminds you of what you promised last quarter and if you’re delivering on it this quarter.

Board Members

Board Members take an entirely different level of formality, primarily because of the fiduciary responsibility they sign up for the company – this duty isn’t cavalier and I would be careful asking someone to join your board too early. Test Advisory Board Members first for a season – if they continue to add value and the need for a formal board is there (maturity of the company, progress toward traction, etc).

Board compensation can be in equity, cash or blended. Independent board members need to be compensated – venture board members are being paid by the firm to watch their money in your deal so don’t generally expect compensation – other than travel.

Depending on the stage and need of the company, it’s at two to five percent. If you’re really early, haven’t raised capital and need the name on your deck/website to help raise the cash, it’s likely at two to three percent. Is it worth it? Well, if you can get to your end game faster the answer is likely yes.


If you’re looking for someone to join your team early and help grow the company, this looks more like a co-founder. The distinction here is how much time and effort do you expect the person to contribute and for how long?

The Foundrs site is a great calculator for contribution – remember everyone has expectations even if they haven’t expressed them. It’s expensive to unravel these expectations in a year – do it now.

Don’t be cheap – if you have a first sales hire that can help grow the company, set milestones with the stock grants based on hitting revenue milestones.

Don’t be naive – the entire point of the post is to help you understand the range of what you should pay and not pay to get work done. If you’re looking for a project deliverable, you can calculate the number of hours required, multiplied by the market (or discounted) rates and provide some sort of options to the contractor or vendor.

If you’re expecting overlapping roles for the above, make sure you have those roles outlined in advance so everyone has a clear understanding of the expectations.

Vesting Schedules

All of these roles have vesting schedules and strike prices for the stock. If the individual isn’t performing – let them go and put the stock to better use with the right role. It won’t get better.

Hiring Professionals

One of my Board Members in my first company told me emphatically that you hire professionals to do legal and banking work. What he meant was that you don’t try to be your own lawyer. You can project manage your lawyer to keep the cost down, but don’t pretend you are a lawyer. I’ve spent a lot of money on legal over the years and I’m comfortable reviewing basic docs as the initial process review, however, that doesn’t take the place of the final legal review.

You will pay a premium rate for a premium attorney. However, you can set fixed fees for projects – it’s amazing how the expense will cap at the fee.

For Bankers, you can expect to spend 7-10 percent of the transaction fee. Some bankers will want a retainer – generally, I’d say no to that retainer and put it as a success fee only – your circumstances will dictate. You might split that fee between cash and stock. But it’s not 10 percent on cash raised plus equity.

Finally, keep in mind you want a real banker – someone with a license (at least in most states). Not someone that says they will help you raise for a fee. Run away from those people.

This was originally published here

Ask David Cohen: Forming a Team

We recently held an AMA with Techstars’ Co-CEO, David Cohen, where he answered commonly asked questions from founders about topics such as forming a team, developing an MVP and applying to an accelerator program.

This post is the fourth in a series of five which includes a transcript of David’s answers to these questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check out the schedule here!

What is the best place to put one’s idea out there in order to expose it to like-minded entrepreneurs in hopes of forming a team?

I get this question a lot. It’s always the, “I want to find co-founders” or “I’m very business oriented and do not have a technical team” or “how can I find people and get them excited about this?” or the, “Do I need to be super worried about exposing my idea? I saw the Facebook movie and how the idea got stolen and I don’t want that to happen to me.” (Which, by the way, it turned out okay for the people whose idea got stolen in that scenario).

We are all very fearful of this and it’s irrational. The people you are talking to and sharing your ideas with are high-reputation people. Maybe they are investors in the community that depend on their reputation, or even experienced entrepreneurs, versus just any stranger. Getting out there and building relationships with people and being a thought leader in your space is a great way to do it.

Start a blog or some account on your favorite social platform and start talking about your issue.

Being a thought leader attracts like-minded people.

People will then share those posts with people that they know are also interested in the issue. “Hey Mary, maybe you should go join Joe and start a company and do this together.”

It is much easier if you are on the engineering side to find the business help, and it is still, even today, much harder if you are on the business side to find the tech help. The thought leadership aspect is key, as well as just living in the communities where the type of people you are looking for hang out. It could be universities, engineering groups, online forums, etc.

You can share a little bit of your idea, but wait for people to engage with you on the idea and then have more of a one-on-one offline. It is a great way to build real relationships.

Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs and getting a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey? Check out a Startup Weekend near you!

At Techstars, we fully believe in the idea that no one is “too far along” for Techstars. Inversely, nothing is too early. Techstars has a program for every step of the entrepreneurial journey – from startup programs like Startup DigestStartup WeekStartup Weekend and Startup Next to later stage offerings, including the accelerator program and venture capital for add-on funding.

Ask David Cohen: Finding a Developer

We recently held an AMA with Techstars’ Co-CEO, David Cohen, where he answered commonly asked questions from founders about topics such as forming a team, developing an MVP and applying to an accelerator program.

This post is the third in a series of five which includes a transcript of David’s answers to these questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check out the schedule here!

Can you offer any tips on selecting a developer or development team?

If I’m an entrepreneur and I have an idea, and I don’t have the development talent around me but I need to find a developer, I would do my selection just like I would with hiring an employee. I would first select on integrity. Is this a person that has high value and is well respected in the community? Secondly, I would select based on their motivation. Do they really want to do this? Is this the team that really wants to go build this thing? Are they excited about it? Are they motivated to change the world in this way? It’s going to be hard.

Somewhere down the line, I look for talent. That would probably be next after motivation and integrity. I think talent without integrity doesn’t matter, and talent without motivation doesn’t matter. Put integrity and motivation first and then look for the talent – the ability to actually do the task or even just the potential to learn it. I think the best developers can learn any language; if they are a good developer, they can learn whatever. But the raw talent, the ability to learn it and do it and demonstrate the ability is helpful.

Later on, experience is the next factor. Having experience in that specific domain is probably the last thing I look for, and by the way, this is true for any employee. You pick developers the same way. Motivation matters a lot because developers right now are like the investors. They are the scarce resource, they are the ones investing in your startup, so I really want to know where they are coming from and why they care about my idea. Hang out in forums and groups where people are passionate about the same things you are. That is where you are going to find the people you are going to want to work with.   


Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs and getting a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey? Check out a Startup Weekend near you or apply to an accelerator program.


At Techstars, we fully believe in the idea that no one is “too far along” for Techstars. Inversely, nothing is too early. Techstars has a program for every step of the entrepreneurial journey – from startup programs like Startup DigestStartup WeekStartup Weekend and Startup Next to later stage offerings, including the accelerator program and venture capital for add-on funding.

Ask David Cohen: Building a Technical Team

We recently held an AMA with Techstars’ Co-CEO, David Cohen, where he answered commonly asked questions from founders about topics such as forming a team, developing an MVP, and applying to an accelerator program.

This post is the second in a series of five which includes a transcript of David’s answers to these questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check out the schedule here!

My co-founder and I are not technical so we used an outside company to develop our MVP. At what point should we start looking to build our technical team?

The analogy I would give you is, if you are a software company, it’s probably pretty important that you have software expertise. If you’re not a software company, and you maybe just have some software that is not absolutely core to what you do, (maybe you’re an investor like us and you have software, but it’s not the central thing that you do for people), then maybe you don’t need to have a full-time engineer, you could outsource that. But, if you are an auto repair shop, and people are bringing their cars to you to be fixed, I don’t think that I would want to outsource my mechanics, because that is my core competency as an auto repair shop. I want total control over it and I want to be the best in the world.

If you’re a software company, I don’t see how you could be the best in the world by outsourcing it to somebody else. Too expensive, not enough control, not enough ownership, hard to get the resources on what you want when you want it, etc. So my answer is, the earlier the better. It’s obviously always a big challenge – people will say, well we don’t have the funding to hire the technical resources, we’ve found an outside group to develop the MVP for a little bit of equity, then great! You’re being an entrepreneur, you’re figuring it out, but if this is your core competency, bring it in-house as soon as possible.

Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs and getting a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey? Check out a Startup Weekend near you or apply to an accelerator program.

At Techstars, we fully believe in the idea that no one is “too far along” for Techstars. Inversely, nothing is too early. Techstars has a program for every step of the entrepreneurial journey – from startup programs like Startup DigestStartup WeekStartup Weekend and Startup Next to later stage offerings, including the accelerator program and venture capital for add-on funding.

Hiring, Culture & Recruiting: Tips for Growing Your Startup Part Three

At Techstars, we often hear from startup founders that hiring is one of the most challenging things to do right. We recently held an AMA on this topic (Ask Techstars: Hiring & Culture – Scaling Your Startup) with me (Sabrina McGrail, VP of People at Techstars); Emma Straight, Sr. Recruiter at Techstars; and Natalie Baumgartner, Founder & Chief Psychologist of RoundPegg, a company culture and engagement tool.

This post is the third in a series of three with Q&A excerpts from this AMA

While companies’ values can differ, have you seen any “value norms” or commonalities across companies who have a very healthy or sustainable culture?

Natalie: We see every combination that you can imagine. When we started Roundpegg, we thought we may see consistencies across an organization or a role, but the data does not support that concept. We know from research literature that there are not right or wrong cultures. What we know is that there is no certain type of culture that predicts high performance. What predicts this is culture alignment – you understand your core values, and everything you do, how you hire, develop, mentor, guide, engage your employees. When the values are aligned, those organizations are way more profitable. The alignment predicts these performances, not the type of culture.

Emma: What I have noticed in working for organizations, is that when the executive leadership has a good understanding of who their employees are, they value their employees and show it. Employees care more if they feel that they are valued too. This makes companies perform better, and that is true in life too.

Sabrina: Humility as an organization and being able to admit when you could have done something better is key. Being able to have these discussions and being comfortable with changing after hearing feedback is really valuable.

Any tips for looking for candidates/recruiting with zero budget to do so?

Emma: Networking is really important, just being out in your community. There are many events you can go to, but just walking around and going to coffee and talking to people and getting involved online is good. Networking as much as possible is key. LinkedIn is a great way to reach out too. Use the network to the best of its ability. Put out what you want specifically is important. Most people are not natural networkers so you have to lay it out to them. Be really appreciative as well, like buy people coffee if they send you a referral, etc.

Sabrina: This comes up a lot in program when we meet with companies. Networking is a key thing I talk with companies about. Understanding what your sell is as a business is key too – why should people leave their job and come work for you? You need passion for what you are doing and get the message right. Understanding your competition and the different companies in your ecosystem – get a better sense of how they are hiring because you are looking for the same people.

How do you ensure your idealistic management approach stays alive when new people coming on board?

Natalie: Having a foundational element early on, like, “this is how we do things here”, is much more straightforward because it is aligned with your culture. This way, you don’t have to have the conversation or reinvent the wheel each time because you have your houses in order and your foundation set. The other thing that I would mention too is don’t make it complicated, keep it really simple, like, “here is how we approach leading our people”, and make sure it is tied to your culture and provide a few bullet points.

Sabrina: Take advantage of the management talent that you do have, that you believe in, and highlight them the right way. Try to hire good managers early on and train your managers early on so that you have people that can then be trusted with challenging management conversations and help to develop a mentorship program from within. It’s not always an HR discussion because a lot of companies won’t have an HR department early on, so try to identify the best management talent that you have.

Emma: Make sure you have a few key managers at the beginning who have proven themselves as people managers. Be able to assess this early on, and make sure that they want to be people managers.

Best tip for hiring and building a team [rapid fire]?

Emma: Make sure that whoever you are talking to in whatever setting, you are putting your best foot forward. Be positive and appreciative. You do not want to make a bad impression because people talk and word spreads fast.

Sabrina: Figure out what is important to you and important to those around you. What do you care about and stand by it because people will tell you it’s wrong along the way.
Natalie: Do the work as an organization, understand what your values are and the glue that holds you and your team together.

Click here to listen a replay of this AMA.

Join us for our next Ask Me Anything session with David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars – June 23rd at 10am PT! Ask anything about startups, fundraising, accelerators, and more! REGISTER.

Top 9 Idea To Be Developed At Startup Weekend Limerick

41 pitches later, participants go their 3 post-its to go vote. I gave one of my vote to 60-minute a delivery service which looks to reduce carbon footprint in logistics, and a second vote to Maternal Care, a one-stop shop and information center for expectant and new mothers.

The last vote was meant to go to Hello Granny, a smart-house app that allows the elderly connect to their children an grand-children through audio messages placed strategically like ‘Good morning Granny‘ for wake-up alarm and ‘Welcome home Granny’ on returning from the market. Sadly I couldn’t find the idea owner and so my vote went to Color Me Happy which went on to make the final list.

Here are the 9 ideas to be developed during the Startup Weekend in Limerick:

1. Color Me Happy is tinder for hairstyles where you can see what looks good on you and then get connected to a hairstylist.


2. May Borrow allows users find and borrow tools like can-openers, lawn mower, etc. from neighbors.


3. Love Guru makes you a match maker in a tinder-type environment, letting you win points and gain credibility for successful matches.


4. Big Red Button wants to disrupt pension by allowing customers save money via premium SMS, coupons and vouchers.


5. Beer Friends is a social network connect for people with similar interests to arrange meetups and themed events.


6. WeTravel wants to enable people travel in groups to drive down prices.


Cute Ideas

For the first time ever, Startup Weekend Limerick had 3 kids under the age of 10 pitch ideas and then went ahead to use all of their cuteness and creativity to hustle votes to make it into top 9. They include:

7. The Sit Hair Chair is a machine that allows you wash you hair while riding a motor chair.


8. Stick-Shirts wants to fix return in fashion retail with smart stickers.


9. The Listening Watch allows kids record moods via emojis on smartwatch with an option to share with teachers and parents.


No doubt the last 3 ideas show how creative and entrepreneurial kids can be and it is even more impressive to see older folks rally around them to work with them over the next 54 hours to bring those ideas as well as the remaining six ideas to life.

I 10 fattori di un team di successo

team building

Al giorno d’oggi sempre più numerose organizzazioni e multinazionali, grandi o piccole che siano, investono in strategie ed aggiornamenti per migliorare l’efficienza dei team all’interno della propria azienda, in quanto sentirsi parte di una micro società ottimizza le prestazioni di ogni singolo lavoratore.

Nel caso di una startup appena consolidata l’esistenza di un team solido ed affiatato è centrale per il suo sviluppo e continuazione nel tempo, oltre che per quello del prodotto ideato.

Secondo gli psicologi i fattori che compongono un team di successo sono 10:

  1. Competenze complementari all’interno del gruppo che persegue degli obiettivi condivisi;
  2. Sensibilità sociale di cui è dotato chi sa ascoltare gli altri, chi sa condividere le critiche in modo costruttivo ed ha una mente aperta;
  3. Presenza di quote rosa, perché migliorano le prestazioni aziendali e promuovono l’integrazione, con un obiettivo molto più ampio che riguarda sconfiggere un pregiudizio fastidioso come il sessismo;
  4. Chiarezza dei ruoli da svolgere all’interno di un gruppo, questione che diventa spinosa quando una situazione lavorativa cambia e tutta la squadra è costretta ad adattarsi. Se i ruoli sono chiari ognuno sa bene quali sono i suoi compiti all’interno del gruppo;
  5. Condivisione degli stessi obiettivi, al fine di svolgere il proprio ruolo procedendo verso un’unica direzione;
  6. Costruzione della fiducia, fondamentale per la crescita del gruppo e quindi dell’impresa, soprattutto perché una squadra forte riesce a negoziare meglio con un’altra;
  7. Identificarsi in una storia da raccontare al mondo esterno;
  8. Divertirsi insieme trascorrendo del tempo al di fuori del contesto lavorativo fa nascere o rafforzare il rapporto di amicizia,
  9. Scegliere persone che abbiano caratteri diversi: gli estroversi sembrano più giocosi e determinati ma hanno bisogno di caratteri più riflessivi ed introversi che molto spesso raggiungono più risultati a lungo termine;
  10. La presenza di un leader che metta in atto continuamente tutti questi fattori, facendo comunicare le parti e spronandole a mantenere sempre viva la passione che ogni singolo membro sentiva al momento di entrare a far parte del team.
Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.17.53

Se stai pensando di fondare una startup è bene riflettere su questi fattori e se hai un’idea non esitare ad iscriverti a Startup Weekend Lecce – Tourism and Culture Edition dal 2 al 4 ottobre!

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Photo Story – Moments from the second day at #SWDub

Being glamorous is about strength and confidence. It’s black and white – dramatic. You have to be strong. – Catherine Zeta-Jones


























You can check out photos from Day 1 here.

Photo credit: Day In Life of Storytelling Photography and Twitter – @DayInLife_Photo.


#SWDub takes a full swing with these 12 ideas

The votes are in and the top 12 ideas selected to be worked on over the weekend. In no particular order here the ideas to be turned into startups.

1. The Alpha Project – An ethnic minority youth empowerment initiative

2. – Online retail to help you get the best ‘bra’ fit

3. CliqCAD – Build Computer-aided drafting  (CAD) in seconds

4. SeeMyBuild – Go into the virtual reality world of architecture and construction

5. Comrade – Connecting people with similar outdoor interests. 

6. The Adventure Pack – Build groups to have amazing travel experiences

7. LunchBox – Pre-book your meal and pick them up. No queues.

8. FoodPlus – Discover restaurants closest to you with great deals

9. Freelancer – Connecting freelancers to clients

10. Appetizing – Book restaurants closest to you with meals you want

11. MingleConnect – Fixing the networking problem at conferences

12. Style Mix – Get customized fashion items result based on machine learning

There you have it. The teams will be going through the process of drain dump, and refining their ideas with help from mentors and coaches tomorrow, all to come up with an MVP to be pitched to the judges in the 54th hour.