If You Don’t Have a Truly Great Founding Team, Just Take a Pause. Don’t Start Your Start-Up Yet.

Ok I know this post and its title seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

But empirically, I can tell you isn’t.  Over the past 12 months, I’ve met with friends/colleagues/partners/ex-customers who are total rockstars and working on starting a company.  I mean, total rockstars.  (Yes, I know that’s an abused team).

What they don’t have is a good enough founding team:

  • Sometimes, if the prospective founder isn’t super technical, then the CTO/VPE isn’t really great.  They’ve got a rent-a-CTO.
  • Or if the founder is technical, and it’s SaaS, they just don’t quite have enough business and domain expertise on the team to really figure it out from a customer side (interviews, getting on a plane, proto-sales, market sizing and segmentation, etc.).
  • Or sometimes they are great, but the team members are just not great enough for their new C-level roles (CEO, CTO, CMO, CSO, CBO, C?O).

Yes, I know statistically, the odds are horribly against you when you do a start-up.  2000:10 or something.   The Series A Crunch.  Whatever.  It’s all true.

{I also concede that markets are, unfortunately, probably even more important than teams.  Controversial but I think true.  Great markets can make up for good but not great teams.  But great teams find great markets, so that doesn’t really matter}


Personally, I don’t know of a single rockstar founding team that didn’t somehow, someway, scrape out at least a single.  At least an acqui-hire.  At least a soft landing, or a pay-everyone-back M&A.  I know there are plenty of contraexamples, but in my network, all of the great teams find a way to make something of their start-ups.  Sometimes a home run, sometimes a double.  At least a single.   But basically no one that is great, but without a great team, did.  A few, but they almost died doing it.

I guess here’s my point to my friends and colleagues anxious to do a start-up.  I hear you.  And Yes, you are Great.  But Wait.  Wait until you have a Great Team, a Truly Great Team.  Even if this opportunity passes you by.  Even if it takes 18 months.  And if your Team is Almost Great — this is the hardest one — you should still Take a Pause.

I’m not saying your team has to be 100% complete before you write a line of code.  Of course, that’s impossible.  But you have to have the rockstar team it takes you to get to reality, to pre-traction, on Day 1.

If not, suck it up and focus on team building.  You’ll somehow come up with another idea, another vision.

inspired by one point on my Quora answer here

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There are 6 comments

  1. calydon

    Isn’t this another way of saying that if you don’t have great connections, and enough social capital to acquire A-players then the startup game is not for you? Capital is no longer the limiting factor in markets, it’s talent. If you don’t have the talent, personally, to attract a superstar team, then you are out of luck?

      1. Michael Doran

        I completely agree as well. This is why a lot of startups fail, and why some do. Everyone is in such a rush to be successful early today that they are often skipping the dues paying portion of their careers.. you know the period where you work for someone who doesn’t get it, mastering your job, and meeting as many people as you can so that you can move on to bigger and brighter things?

  2. Today in Technology April 24, 2015 | Tech Fann.com

    […] If you don’t have an A+ team, then fix it. You may have a set of founders why may individually be extremely talented, but if you don’t have a great team that is going to go into battle together every single day for the next 24 months to get to initial traction, take a pause. “Don’t launch, find a new founder, find a new something. Don’t start something without a great founding team that’s committed for 24 months or you’re just setting yourself up to fail,” says Lemkin. […]

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