Early-stage ventures: 4 Keys to Get the Best People on Your Bus

Early-stage Ventures: 4 Keys to Get the Best People on Your Bus

I’ve had a lot of experiences building execution teams that were effective at building products and companies in the “early stage.” The early stage of a venture is unique because information is generated very quickly, and must be immediately put to work to iterate and move to the next goal. I’ve seen how teams can execute well, and where things start to fall apart in this environment both in corporate ventures and startups. I strongly believe that getting the right people onto your early stage team is the most important success factor in whether your venture will be ground breaking or a big nothing burger. 

You want great people to join your early-stage venture, not good. You want the people who will put in the hours and go the extra mile to see out a project deadline. You want the people who have the drive and a work ethic like no other but in my experience, you need to have a few critical areas covered in order to attract the best. If you don’t have all of them covered, you end up attracting good, not great! 

The “A” players get shit done and hit the ball out of the park every time when it comes to performance. These are the type of people you need behind your new venture if you’re looking for success. As James Collins stated in Good to Great, before you start driving the bus you need to have the right people in the key seats. You may not know exactly where this bus is going yet and you need people that can adapt and perform regardless of what the road ahead might hold for your venture. They have the passion and the resolve to make it happen…and you most definitely don’t want these people on your competition’s bus.

Here are 4 critical things leaders need to focus on: 

  1. Establish a BIG shared vision. Great people want and need to be part of something big. That big idea of a game-changing opportunity has to be felt and voiced by the leadership team from the beginning. Otherwise, you will attract people who don’t really care about the vision and will consider you as a stepping stone  to their next opportunity. These people won’t go the extra mile or think outside the box like you will need them to. By making your vision loud and clear you will get the “A” players who will not only think big but will set the stage for greatness. As they say “Shoot for the moon and you’ll at worst land among the stars”.

  2. Share a business model or a key metric that early partners and employees will understand as a scalable value creator, which should align with the vision. No one wants to attach their name to and be part of something that they feel will inevitably fail to attract investors and growth. From the onset, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and this must be conveyed to the people on your team. For instance, have clearly defined goals such as ‘We make this product and sell it for X, and it scales to Z market size at a reasonable penetration rate’, ‘We are going to sell a SaaS product for Y per month’, or ‘process Y billion transactions per month and make money on each transaction’. This is how you show your employees where you want to go and keep a sense of purpose and mission around your early-stage venture. Parents and friends will always ask how your startup makes money, but they don’t ask you that when you join the likes of Google or Goldman. If you are going after a “metric” like daily users then hopefully you can point to other companies that scale on that metric. Of course, there are outliers and different industries will have different indicators of performance, but let’s be real…most companies that succeed have some grounding in reality.

  3. Build a great culture people want to live and work in. Smart, innovative, fun, analytical, honest, respectful, empowered, and collaborative? What values make this place special? It needs to come from the top and that begins with you. Do people feel like they want to come to work every day? Is it a collaborative “get sh*t done” mindset? Can they walk up to the CEO and other senior staff and say “what’s up” and bring up a suggestion and feel like any good idea is respected? Have you set up an org structure that lets people divide and conquer, yet have the right forums for respectful debate? Are the perks you offer meaningful and aligned with the mission?

    You need your people to be on the same page and going in the same direction, in the culture you set for your mission. If your team is misaligned, you will soon experience friction and nobody wants to be on a bus where they don’t like or don’t have the same vision as the person they are sitting beside. 

  4. Be unafraid to “prune.” This can be the toughest part for any new venture or early-stage company. If you have some members on the team that don’t fit the role well or aren’t high performers it will start to show (you’ll feel it) as new “A” players join the team. These may be advisors or consultants too. They may be “good enough” in your mind but that’s not enough to build something great and perform at the top level. Don’t be afraid to make changes quickly or risk losing the good ones…once they are out the replacement energy from a new hire will take you further faster. Sometimes this can be really hard – it might be co-founders or friends who got involved early. But you still need to do what’s right for your business and this will ultimately keep the entire bus happier and on the right road. You can always try to find a more fitting role for them but never be afraid to make the cuts you know you need in order to keep your new venture on track for greatness. 

Attracting an amazing team and getting the “A” players involved in the early days of any venture will make all the difference when it comes to achieving your first big milestones. This will put the wind in your sail and will be key when it comes to growth. Keep these critical areas in mind and hopefully, you’ll have an A+ team that will take you to the big game in a party bus. I hope this was helpful, thanks for reading!