Dream Team Recruiting
Unfair advantage attracts the outstanding people. It is what they look for. When they hear it, they know it, intuitively. It is a story told by a person excited about a new company. The story is attractive because it is a combination of things that, together, are impossible to copy and are so powerful that the competition complains it is unfair.
Your core team will build your entry level unfair advantage during the pre-seed time of forming the new enterprise. That is during time spent around the kitchen table with no money, just ideas. That core team needs to be quick, innovative and stimulating. They need to work as a unit that trusts each other. Mutual trust is vital to keeping this core team adding to the unfair advantage plan for their new enterprise.
Prior to the big day “Let’s do it!” you will need to maintain enthusiasm of your Dream Team. Most founders will keep the core team increasingly engaged on a single good idea. It will take time for your core team to get ready to make the big move: resign from a job to work full time on your idea for a new enterprise. That takes courage and is risky. It when you know if you really have a core team committed or not.
You don’t get a Dream Team by starting recruiting a core team of strangers the day after you get some seed cash. Serial entrepreneurs start forming their core team years before that day. They find their small group of managers well in advance of the arrival of the first cash.
“When should I start to form my Dream Team?” is a question I am often asked. My answer is always the same: “Start right now.”
“Where do I find candidates for my Dream Team?” is the second question I get. Here are sources that have worked well for those who became serial entrepreneurs:
· School friends. These are people you went to college and university with, spent social time with, and got to know well. You share important values about the purpose of life, what you want in a spouse and family, and a lot of things too intimate to write about. ENGAGEMENT: Typically this group consists of people you contact years after graduating, when you want to talk about an idea you have for a new enterprise. At least they can tell you that you are foolish without you responding by exploding or getting depressed. They can be trusted to keep your idea a secret. And they may even be interested in joining your Dream Team.
· Working friends. These are people you work with daily on the job. You meet them in meetings. You get assigned to work on the same project with them. They are doing things in the same division in the same large corporation that you are in. You spend time at lunch getting to know them on a personal basis. You observe them delivering what their bosses demand, note how they take risks, what they like to create and how they deal with surprises both good and bad. As years go by, you will spend weekends with them on the beach, skiing, at sporting events, concerts, and take a short vacation together. Your personal lives become open and shared. You understand the important values each has about religion, politics and sex. ENGAGEMENT: When you are ready, you will gather the two or three people you are keen on and inquire about what interest they have in doing a new enterprise. That will lead to the “Yes” or “No, thanks” that you need to take the next steps with them, or without them.
· Your last startup. The people you respect in your last new enterprise are the most likely candidates for your Dream Team. Most experienced investors and serial entrepreneurs look for teams coming from prior startups. This will give you a chance to see people in real startup stress conditions and watch how they deliver. You will have ample opportunity to spend time over meals and social time getting to know each other. The camaraderie of shared startup emotions and results – good and poor – will give you outstanding insight to values, character and skill of each person on your short list. ENGAGEMENT: Entrepreneurs talk daily about other startups, from competitors to new enterprises. It is common for colleagues to discuss “When I get the chance, I’d like to do my own startup.” Talks begin with how to do a better startup (than the one they are employed at) and include vague ideas for a fresh business. Those discussions open the door to engaging candidates for your Dream Team (off company property is advised).
· Strangers. Yes, strangers can be part of your Dream Team – but only under one condition: that you spend a lot of time over a year or more, getting to know each other. You need time to reduce the risks of hiring people you do not yet know. They can be full of bad surprises – and rarely good ones. Anything less than a year of intimate time together will be too short because you have to have time to get intimate on many levels to know the truth about these strangers. These people speak at industry panels, talk to your school alumni gatherings, and often blog weekly. They are written about by reporters for magazines and newspapers. You find them named in exciting new product launches. They are listed as CEOs and vice presidents of startups on the portfolios of venture capital firms’ web sites. They are included in lists of Executives In Residence for venture capital firms. You see then named as officers of startups that have gone public recently. ENGAGEMENT: Most founders approach such strangers via an introduction (A lawyer, mutual friend, and CPA are examples). Cold contact is tried, but has few successes. These candidates will be immediately attentive to you if you have an idea for a startup. As they listen, they will be measuring you for fit into their next startup.
EXAMPLE: The best core teams are formed years before you do your start-up. Two Korean entrepreneurs contacted me about their newest enterprise. One was a former student of mine. Their idea involved creating an amazing platform for users doing a new generation of massive groups playing on-line games and new forms of social networking. The two young men had become close working friends during a half dozen years employed by a giant Korean electronics corporation. As we talked, I found two people each able to finish the sentences of the other. Their time together went back to days as friends during undergraduate work at Cornell University. After graduating, they returned to Korea. Outside company working hours they started meeting to quietly discuss ideas for a new enterprise. That led to a decision to get started using their own savings and lead a few years later to a business plan that attracted world-class employees and investors. The company is Nurien.
EXAMPLE: Another ace I have had the privilege to observe in action is Elizabeth Charnock. She did her second enterprise, Cataphora, with people who were outstanding in her prior startup. She formed her dream team from the ashes of the prior Internet company. She knew who would work well with her and others in the follow-on company. It was not an overnight recruiting rush.
Bottom Line: Serial entrepreneurs spend a lot of time looking for the best people to form a core team to do a great global new enterprise. It takes years of deliberate work. Their radar is constantly searching for top talent. At trade shows. At company meetings. At school alumni gatherings. During social gatherings of friends. They look for marketing and technical leaders. When they spot likely candidates, they ask for time with them, doing lunches, dinners and other things on the job and at home. If the chemistry is right, a small group will begin to dream together, contemplating things that might be turned into real startups. When one idea clicks, when it seems good enough to pursue, they will have a big advantage over a competing person who has to first get some money and then find the missing people of his core team. The founder with a core team ready to go will “hit the road running” and leave the competition in the dust (as they spend precious time recruiting risky strangers).
Tomorrow: Picking Investors