The Startup Team

12/13/11Follow @sgblank

Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.
—SEAL team saying

Over the last 40 years technology investors have learned that the success of a startup is not just about the technology, “it’s about the team.”

We spent a year screwing it up in our Lean LaunchPad classes until we figured out it was about having the right team.

Startup Team Lessons Learned

During the last 12 months we’ve taught 42 entrepreneurial teams with 147 students at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and the National Science Foundation. (As many teams as most startup incubators.)

Get into the Class
When I first started teaching hands-on, project/team entrepreneurship classes we’d take anyone who would apply. After a while it became clear that by not providing an interview process we were doing these students a disservice. A good number of them just wanted an overview of what a startup was like—an entrepreneurial appreciation class (and we offer some great ones). But some of our students hadn’t yet developed a passion for entrepreneurship and had no burning idea that they wanted to bring to market. Yet in class they’d be thrown into a “made-up in the first week” startup team and got dragged along as a spear-carrier for someone else’s vision.

Step One—Set a Bar
So as a first step we made students formally apply and interview for the Lean LaunchPad class. We were looking for entrepreneurs who had great ideas and interest in making those ideas really happen. We’d hold mixers before the first class and the students would form their teams during week one of the class.

But we found we were wasting a week or more as the teams formed and their ideas gelled.

Step Two—Apply As A Team
So next time we taught, we had the students apply to the class as a team. We hold information sessions a month or more before the classes. Here students with preformed teams could come and have an interview with the teaching team and get admitted. Or those looking to find other students to join their team could mix and market their ideas or join others and then interview for a spot. This process moved the team logistics out of class time and provided us with more time for teaching.

But we had been selecting teams for admission on the basis of whether they had the best ideas. We should have known better. In the classroom, as in startups, the best ideas in the hands of a B team is worse than a B idea in the hands of a world class team.

Here’s why.

Step Three—Hacker/Hardware, Hustler, Designer, Visionary
As we taught our Lean LaunchPad classes we painfully relearned the lesson that team composition matters as much or more than the product idea. And that teams matter as much in entrepreneurial classes as they do in startups.

In a perfect world you build your vision and your customers would run to buy your first product exactly as you spec’d and built it. We now know that this “build it and they will come” is a prayer rather than a business strategy. In reality, a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. This means the brilliant idea you started with will change as you iterate and pivot your business model until you find product/market fit.

The above paragraph is worth reading a few times.

It basically says that a startup team needs to be capable of making sudden and rapid shifts—because it will be wrong a lot. Startups are inherently chaos. Conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that … Next Page »

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

Single Page Currently on Page: 1 2

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.