top of page

How to Build a Winning Team for Your Startup

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

For a team to win, it first needs to be the right team. In this post, we will talk about one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey — team building. To that end, we’ll dig into psychology, because as far as people are concerned, it all starts and ends with psychology.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

People build companies, and people destroy companies. According to a survey conducted by CB Insights in 2019 with 101 startups that failed, the third reason for the failure of the ventures was “Not the right team”. So it’s no wonder that investors first want to believe in their entrepreneurial team and their capabilities before they even look at the idea of the venture. The company’s DNA is a crucial factor in its chances of succeeding, and the biggest challenge for founding entrepreneurs is to build it the right way. That’s what we’re here for. Build a Team That’s Passionate About Your Business Idea and Innovation as a Worldview “Apple at its core, its core value, is that we believe that people with a passion can change the world for the better.” — Steve Jobs, opening speech for Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, 1997. Jobs not only marketed the passion for technology, but he also made sure his team was passionate about innovation and said that when you get a core group of ten great people, it becomes self-policing as to whom they let into that group.

Young Steve Jobs on How to Hire, Manage, and Lead People

From my own experience, passion does neutralize mediocrity. Working at high-tech companies, I’ve realized that in every workplace there are “Minimum” people and “Maximum” people. That is, some people will always do the minimum that is required of them as they approach each task with the thought of “How am I going to finish this as quickly as possible” and they will not hesitate to impose responsibility on others. On the other hand, there are people who always approach tasks with the intention of giving added value and do the maximum they can to produce something of quality, that might even surprise their superiors. The intrinsic difference between the two is that the Minimum people are driven by necessity (“I do this because I have no choice”), while the Maximum people are driven by desire (“I do this to reach the feeling of self-fulfillment”).

Of course, this varies depending on the person’s personality and the tasks they are required to do. Therefore, if your business idea and purpose do not ignite the imagination and passion of the person sitting in front of you in a job interview — don’t hire them. They will not be committed to the work as you are and they will not enjoy it accordingly — which is a recipe for mediocrity. This is because that by accepting a person to a job they are not excited about, you are basically encouraging them to compromise and become Minimum people who demand less of themselves — and then give less of themselves accordingly because their satisfaction supplies are empty. It’s simple math.

“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech.

Your employees’ desires have far-reaching implications, in part, because passion inspires curiosity to know more. According to the psychologist Dr. Emily Anhalt, who has conducted and analyzed over a hundred interviews with entrepreneurs, curiosity is one of the seven traits that make a founding-entrepreneur “emotionally fit” for the shaky entrepreneurial journey:

“Curiosity is at the core of what drives the entrepreneurial spirit — the belief that you can solve problems with unique solutions and innovate on the status quo. Building a company relies on curiosity about testing different hypotheses and continuously iterating.” Dr. Emily Anhalt, Psy.D.

Meaning, if your founding team and employees keep up to date with the latest innovations in technology and draw inspiration from diverse sources of knowledge (books, movies, blogs, arts, conferences, social media…), they will enrich each other with their insights and elevate the level of creativity in your organization. They will also learn about the market you’re competing in from personal interest, come up with original ideas to excel, and will try to base them with data-based research, rather than opinions and wishful thinking — and that’s the way to build a sustainable and profitable business. A great way to examine how curious you are is through a short “Curiosity Test” whose questions are based on scientific research that measures your curiosity profile and divides it into three key areas: unconventionality, intellectual hunger, and experiential curiosity. Just don’t leave us hanging and share your results with us in the comments.

My curiosity profile according to the the“Curiosity Test”

Choose Quality People Whose Giving Is an Integral Part of Their Personality According to Adam Grant, a psychologist, and New York Times’ Bestselling Author, the average workplace consists of three types of people: Takers, Matchers, and Givers. In his book, “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success” Grant explains that the Takers are those who work almost exclusively in ways that advance their personal agendas. In their interactions with others, they internally ask the question, “What can you do for me?”, While the Matchers operate on a “give and take” basis, as they give equally to what others have given them. The Matchers’ interactions are based on fairness and the idea that “If you do something for me, I’ll do something for you”. However, the third group, the givers, is made up of people serving those around them. The givers’ interactions are based on the question “What can I do for you?”. Through data-based research, Grant explains why givers, those who usually care for the interests of others, are key to both individual — and organizational success.

Are You a Giver or a Taker? | Adam Grant

According to Grant, the most significant way to succeed is by helping others succeed. Therefore, if we weed Takers out of organizations, create an environment where it is safe to ask for help, protect Givers from burnout and exploitation, and allow them to be ambitious and pursue their own goals as well as trying to help others — we can change the way people in the organization define “success”. Thus, instead of saying that success is all about victory, they will realize that success is more about contribution. Taking into account the research that included 30,000 people from different industries, it turns out that Takers make up only 19% of the population, while the Matchers make up 56% and the Givers 25%. If we add to this the research that has measured and shown that Givers are the most successful in organizations — we will realize that, scientifically, most of us will be better off and prosper when we work in companies where giving is of paramount value. Therefore, there is no reason to bring a Taker into an organization, and certainly not to place them at the top of the pyramid.

Pick Employees With Complementary Skills Who Can Do the Job for the Long-Run When you select the founding team for your startup, you are essentially laying down the foundations for your company. In more advanced stages, a technology company is usually built from several permanent departments: software development, marketing and sales, customer service, information systems, and technical support, finance, operations, and human resources. Therefore, you need to choose a balanced team where everyone can wear several hats to allow the business to operate and grow. A good founding team will consist of two to three people, and several approaches define the main roles everyone should focus on, and here’s my favorite approach for startups with no budget: Business and Marketing person — They are responsible for the viability of the business model. They act as a justice scale when the desired conflicts with what is, and make sure to communicate the business vision and unfair advantages to employees, investors, and customers. Also, they take care of the profit and loss reports and are often the ones who manage the rest of the team. Engineer — They are responsible for product viability. They need to determine if the product can be built, how, and at what cost. Product Designer — They are responsible for the product user experience. They design the technology user interface after examining the competitors and conducting usability testings and interviews with customers to understand their needs, so they can make their product experience enjoyable. With that said, beyond the professional functions of the founding team, you should also consider the range of their personality traits. To that end, there are team role theories focused on management roles, and the essence of which is that a team should consist of different team roles, depending on the specific goals the team wants to achieve. A team that does not have the ideal composition may run into problems. For example, a team consisting of only creative individuals will generate many ideas, but a lot of them won’t be implemented. Similarly, a team consisting of only experts may lose the big picture. You can find different team role tests on the web, but since we are discussing startup team building, I recommend free team role test.

My team role test results

Be the Change You Want to See in Your Startup You get what you give: If you want loyal partners and employees who are passionate, curious, work diligently and professionally, and lift each other — you as the company founder need to serve as an example for the corporate culture and be the business vision carrier. Returning to Dr. Emily Anlett’s research, in addition to curiosity, six other traits make a founding-entrepreneur “emotionally fit” for entrepreneurship: self-awareness, empathy, willingness to play, mindfulness, resilience, and effective communication. So before you set up a team, you should make sure you have the emotional and professional tools to become the leaders you would want to work for. To summarize, the path to success relies first and foremost on who you are as people and on the decisions you make as company leaders as to whom you invite to join your startup ride. Because when you bring in new employees, you’re not only bringing in their professional skills, but also their habits, worldviews, and the way they act in a team — and your entire work environment will shape accordingly. Therefore, if you want a successful business — look far ahead, know where you want to go, and whom you want to be there with you.



bottom of page