The Essential Ingredient of Killer Startup Teams
Many startups get off the ground with an original team of two or more people, and even if you’re in a solo startup, you’ll eventually have to work with investors, customers, business associates, or some other people. The theme here? Working with other people as a team.
Discovering the Problem
When my team (two people, including me) first started building our software, we were slow in output and weak in motivation and energy. At the time, we both spent 90% of our time as developers. We thought we were doing things right by always working on the same thing, together. We would both be working on the landing page in the same period of time, for instance, or the mobile app, or the API. We would never be working on separate parts of the business, even in the tech section, because we thought it was necessary to be on the same page for everything.
And every two days or so, we would tell each other everything we did and how we did it, a very time consuming process that also led to confusion.
Neither of us were new to this SaaS business, having both been on a similar project before, and I noticed the unfortunate similarities in progress, issues, and unstable productivity as with our previous project. I thought, “Wait, we have to learn something from last time. We have to do something differently.” So I started re-evaluating everything we were doing, trying to think of where we were going wrong.
The Solution: Trust
My first thought was that we needed more people to do different things to improve progress. It made sense to me that if we had more people working on different parts of the business, we would be more balanced and thus perform better, both in the sense of working better but also being received better, since all departments other than engineering were neglected at the time.
Then something occurred to me: the two of us could maximize the number of roles we play by holding multiple roles, but also holding exclusive roles. If we each had multiple responsibilities, and our responsibilities did not overlap, we would have as many areas covered as possible. It sounds simple, but with the constant need to keep up with everything the other team member is doing, holding all these different roles becomes impossible. You’d be spending more time learning how the other person does their jobs than doing your jobs. The only way to hold all these different roles and accomplish as much as possible in a team is to trust the other team members to do their job, while you do yours.
In other words, you don’t have to be as smart as your team members. Count on them to do their thing while you do yours.
When you accept this fact, your team output will immediately improve because a startup is like your body: it needs balance. Facebook does not only employ engineers, and neither does Google or Apple. Other employees in the company working on finance, management, design, or marketing are just as important to a company’s success as engineers are. For a startup-er who entered this scene as an engineer, this isn’t a no-brainer. But taking it into account when structuring a team and carving up the tasks will create a more capable, resilient team who produces more solid results.
It works, and here’s proof.
Okay, I don’t have burndown chart progressions or revenue metrics to show, but if you’re still reading this you probably trust me enough to take my anecdotal evidence, anyway.
Since ‘branching out’ into separate roles, my team has experienced success we have never seen before, at a rate we only thought was possible with a bigger team. Development progress multiplied, the quality of the product increased, and even customer signups and brand awareness saw improvement.
Perhaps most importantly, my team feels more confident hacking it out every day because we each understand more aspects of the business. We’re each keeping track of more than one thing, and thus see the change when we manipulate those different toggles. That leads to a better understanding of the business as a whole, which is light years ahead of the alignment we were trying to create by constantly keeping up with each other previously.
If you skipped to this point and still want the tea:
Working in a startup means each person wears different hats. The fact that each person does many different things is one of the things that makes a startup work because companies need to be balanced to function. By trusting your team to do their job, you can better diversify in your own roles and ultimately work better as a team.
In summary, a team made of individuals with their own skills creates a more capable force. In my experience, that’s the best kind of teamwork.