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How To Build A Growth-Oriented Startup Team

Building A Startup - startup founders


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It’s easy to look at the media and believe that genius-level sole founders are behind the fast-growing unicorn companies we see constantly popping up around us. Many times, when a business succeeds, it is the most well-known team member that receives the public credit – and when a business fails, this same individual usually takes the blame in the media. But just because we don’t hear about other team members, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. What many of us don’t see behind the scenes, are the experienced and knowledgeable individuals that make up the startup team – the people who make sure the operation runs smoothly and that the business avoids the obstacles that often result in startup failure. 

Great teams can turn average concepts into million-dollar brands, and in the same vein, terrible teams can run amazing companies into the ground. Startup founders eventually realize that building a startup team is the most important, but most difficult, part of launching, establishing, and growing a successful business.

Before you can build your powerhouse startup team, you first need to consider which roles are required to propel the business forward. In this article, we will evaluate whether you need to build an executive team, and explain some of the roles you should consider.  

How Important Is A Startup Team? 

Keep in tune with startup media, and it would be easy to believe that there’s a unicorn company around every corner. Let’s be clear here – there’s not. There are 600,000 businesses that launch in the United States each year, but only 600 unicorn startups worldwide. The chance of failure is one hundred times higher than the potential for becoming a unicorn. Many studies estimate that as many as nine out of ten businesses fail within their first several years. 

What causes so many startups to fail? Well, there are many reasons. Some of the top reasons include no market need for the product, a lack of capital, or for 23% of failed startups, the wrong team. Startups can quickly fail if they don’t have the right people in the right positions, lack enough team members to maintain capacity, or even if their team members lack the optimal chemistry. 

Excellent products alone don’t create successful startups. Fast-growing startups are built on a foundation of intangible factors like knowledge, experience, creativity, and skills. There are many benefits that come along with developing a startup team, including: 

  1. Financial Contribution: Launching a startup is expensive, and it can take years for a new startup to secure investor funding. Around 75% of startups used their own personal savings during the product development process, and this can be a major burden for a sole founder. With several founders, a team can spread the financial contribution across multiple team members, reducing personal financial strain, and providing more runway for the company. 
  2. Knowledge Coverage: Delivering a product or service is only a small part of what it takes to manage a startup. As the startup grows, it will require experience in several areas from marketing and finance to operations and product development. Sole founders are rarely knowledgeable across every one of these areas and must depend on outside consultation in the absence of a team. 
  3. Performance: Statistically speaking, teams deliver better performance. Adding a second member doesn’t only duplicate the productivity of the business, but it drives motivation, reduces stress on each member, and allows the startup to grow quicker and with fewer obstacles.

Yes, you can build a startup without a team – but doing so will increase your workload tenfold. Knowing that you need a team is one thing, but knowing which team members you need is the most important part. In the following sections, we will describe five positions you should consider as you build your startup team to put your company on the path towards greatness. 

How To Build The Ultimate Startup Team

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

The chief executive officer (CEO) position is usually the most coveted role in a startup – but that doesn’t make it more important than other roles. 

In a startup, the CEO is the visionary. Depending upon the company, this person may hold the title of Director, Managing Director, or President – but generally, these terms are interchangeable. The individual in this role serves a critical role in the organization, with responsibilities ranging from setting goals and defining strategies to monitoring progress and developing the culture of the entire organization. 

An effective CEO is a big-picture thinker. They manage the organization from the top and set the plans to lead the team toward success. With a focused and powerful vision, they keep the entire team concentrated on the end goal. Their passion is contagious, and their enthusiasm about the future of the business spreads throughout the organization like wildfire. Through their leadership, the CEO sets the organization’s pace; and by keeping a pulse on the market, they constantly seek to identify potential opportunities that the startup can take advantage of. 

It is a misconception to believe that the startup’s founder is the best fit for this position. While it is common, it is not always the case – and you shouldn’t adopt this approach for your startup. Instead, the person who is most qualified to lead the startup from a visionary standpoint should serve in this role. 

What Makes A Good CEO? 

There are three main qualities and attributes you should consider when seeking the right person to serve in this position. These qualities include: 

  1. Vision: The Chief Executive Officer should be a visionary – the type of person always five steps ahead and constantly defining the startup’s future. However, they aren’t dreamers, dreaming up new ideas with no reason. Instead, they should know how to analyze markets, identify opportunities, and create new products and services to take advantage of them. Other executives typically focus on their specific department (like marketing or finance), but the CEO can see the big picture well enough to ensure that each department’s efforts move the startup closer to its long-term goals and objectives. 
  2. Execution: A good CEO recognizes valuable opportunities, but a great CEO knows how to strategize and execute on new ideas. The right person for your startup’s CEO role can take big ideas, dissect them into SMART goals, determine what tasks are necessary to obtain those goals, and delegate each activity to the right team members to achieve the startup’s vision. 
  3. Relationships: CEOs usually serve as the face of the brand, and they need to be exceptional in building relationships with their team and outside parties, including investors, journalists, and partners. To accomplish this, the individual needs to possess reliable communication and interpersonal skills, along with a motivational and persuasive attitude. Even during a crisis, the CEO keeps a cool head – communicating progress to all stakeholders and leading the team through the situation. 

The CEO is the glue that holds all the departments together with a single vision, and they play a crucial role in the startup’s success. However, they can’t build a successful startup alone. While they are looking at the big picture, someone needs to monitor the numbers – and that’s where the Chief Financial Officer comes into play. 

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Startups shouldn’t overlook the importance of a Chief Financial Officer or Finance Director – their role is critical from the moment a startup spends or earns its first dollar. 

Too often, new businesses choose to omit this role early on, since the startup doesn’t have tremendous sales, revenues, or finances to manage, but this is a mistake. A Chief Financial Officer is more than just an accountant, and managing the company’s books is only a small portion of their job. 

A good CFO ensures that the startup manages every dollar in a healthy way. They build scalable financial systems that support the business as it grows, and they analyze financial data to develop insights about customers, business progress, and new developments. Furthermore, they focus on finding capital sources for the startup and communicating with banks, angel investors, and venture capitalists during the fundraising stages. 

The CFO constantly monitors the startup’s numbers, ensuring that all incoming and outgoing funds are recorded and accounted for. By interpreting the business’s financial performance, they can foresee financial challenges and identify potential opportunities. From financial planning to record-keeping, the Finance Director has a hugely important role that is necessary for every startup.

Chief Financial Officer - CFO typing on laptop.

What Makes a Great Startup CFO? 

You need a great Chief Financial Officer on your team, but what qualities should you look for when hiring one for your team? The most important qualities of a great CFO include: 

  1. Deep Financial Knowledge: The most crucial quality of a CFO is having immense knowledge across all facets of startup finances. Succeeding in this role requires more than just being “good with numbers.” An effective Director of Finance has accounting experience, financial aptitude, and a firm understanding of business operations. In the role, they are responsible for recording, analyzing, and reporting financial data – so deep know-how is imperative to proper performance in the role. 
  2. Insightful: Examining an organization’s financial data can provide substantial insights into a company’s health and its future trajectory. Financials don’t just tell you where the business is, but it tells you where it is going. Financial evaluation can generate insights regarding how quickly the business is growing, which products customers are most interested in, and whether the business has the optimal pricing strategy. The ideal CFO can interpret the numbers and recommend insights that progress the business, increase revenue, and drive profitability. 
  3. Results-Oriented: CFOs should be result-oriented and able to make decisions with the organization’s short- and long-term objectives in mind. Analysis is important, but a great Chief Financial Officer can see beyond the numbers. They can set realistic goals and incorporate the financial strategies to meet them. The optimal team member can work alongside the rest of the executive board, help develop the team’s metrics, and ensure that the startup meets its objectives from a financial perspective. 

Finding the right person for this role will help your startup ensure its financial health and stability. But unfortunately, the Finance Director’s job becomes quite ineffective if the business isn’t making sales or bringing in revenue – and that is why your startup would also benefit from a competent Chief Sales Officer (CSO)

Chief Sales Officer (CSO) 

The main job of a Chief Sales Officer is to identify sales growth opportunities, meet with potential customers, and close sales. This role can go by many titles, including Head of Sales or Director of Sales. As an executive, this person has several responsibilities, from building sales processes to hiring sales reps and making sales forecasts. 

Chief Sales Officers provide direction and leadership to the sales department and are accountable for the department’s performance and the organization’s ability to achieve its goals and objectives. They identify new sales opportunities, build and implement sales strategies, and maintain relationships with leads and potential customers. 

What Makes an Impactful Chief Sales Officer?

Selling a new product or service is a tough job, and it’s not for everyone. To successfully operate in this role, an individual should possess the following qualities: 

  • Experienced: The last thing you want is an inexperienced salesperson standing in front of your prospects and misrepresenting your brand. In sales, experience builds confidence, and confidence is necessary to closing prospects. The person you place in this role should be comfortable identifying potential customers and partners and adept in creating strategies to reach them effectively. It takes a tremendous number of rejections for a salesperson to build up confidence, and you don’t want those rejections happening on your dime – so choose someone who already has a background dealing with clients as a brand representative, establishing new sales plans, and seeing the sales process through to completion. 
  • Customer-Centric: A good CSO listens to the customer, asks the right questions to identify their pains and challenges, and implements a personalized approach in their sales strategy. The CSO should know how to discover the issues that customers face and persuade them that the startup’s product makes their lives more comfortable or convenient. As they execute their sales strategy, they will build valuable customer relationships and develop a feedback loop to continuously learn more about the customers’ needs. 
  • Communication: In many cases, the CSO will be the point person for potential customers and partners – so you need someone who can clearly and effectively communicate the brand message. They should know how to explain the benefits of the product, express the startup’s value proposition to customers, answer any objections, and push leads from the initial inquiry to purchase. 

If your company relies on sales (and most do), the CSO will prove an integral part of your team. But if your product requires software or development, then someone has to build and maintain it – and that’s where the Chief Technology Officer comes in. 

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Startup teams need someone proficient in technology to build the solution, ensure its quality, and develop new products and features. The Chief Technology Officer, who may also go by the Director of Technology, makes the executive decisions regarding the company’s technology interests. For tech startups, the CTO’s job is to direct the development of the product, oversee its maintenance, and implement new ideas for later product releases. 

Additionally, the CTO is responsible for detailing the startup’s technological vision, developing new strategies for product development, implementing third-party software to help progress the product, overseeing technical projects, and directing the product team. 

chief technology officer - CTO writing code

How To Choose The Best CTO

Product development is critical to any successful startup. That’s why your team needs someone that understands the intricacies and nuances of creating and building new developments. There are several qualities that you should look for in a candidate when filling this position. 

  1. Tech Knowledge: First, your CTO should have a deep knowledge of technology and product development. This person may not be a software or product developer, per say, but they need to know how to manage team members and contractors to build the required technology. Using their knowledge, they should recognize when a new solution is necessary, plot out a development strategy, and identify the technology stack required to build it. A great CTO stays on top of the market and relies on technology to help the organization succeed. 
  2. A Designer’s Eye: The CTO should also have a designer’s eye. Coding isn’t enough to develop an app or software product – design is equally important. Design goes beyond layout and color. Great design ensures that the product is easy to use without confusion and easy to operate from a customer standpoint. The ideal candidate understands the importance of design, user experience, and user interface. Furthermore, they ensure that the product’s design aligns with the brand’s character and personality. 
  3. Project Manager: Project management is a necessary component of this role. The CTO participates in technical projects daily, especially in a tech startup, so they need to have experience organizing and managing teams. When the board conceptualizes new ideas, the CTO establishes plans to develop and see them through to creation. There are many moving pieces when building new products and features, and your Chief Technology Officer needs to have the experience and skill to manage it all. 

Once you have a great tech person in place, you’ll feel confident knowing that you’re delivering a quality product. But who cares about having a quality product if no one ever hears about it? This is where the next team member comes into play – the Chief Marketing Officer. 

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Startups need to create a brand presence and generate a buzz in the market – and that requires effective marketing execution. The Chief Marketing Officer, also commonly referred to as the Director of Marketing, develops and executes the go-to-market strategy for new products. The CMO creates the organization’s messaging, monitors marketing performance, and launches market tests. 

A quality CMO can have a dramatic impact on a new startup. Their job is to maximize the organization’s marketing budget and oversee its entire program. They establish the tactics that make prospects aware of the products and nurture them through the marketing funnel until transforming them into leads or customers. Additionally, they implement techniques to transform customers into re-purchasers and encourage them to recommend the startup to their peers. 

Why is the CMO important? We now know that having the wrong startup team is the third most common reason that startups fail. But it’s not the only reason. Of all the startups that fail, 42% fail because there is no market need and 14% fail due to poor marketing (according to CBInsights). The ideal CMO tests the market to ensure that a market demand exists, and they have the insight to implement the right marketing techniques at the right time to drive new interest in the product or service. 

The Must-Have Qualities of a CMO

Hiring the right CMO on your startup team can make or break your business. A bad fit can blow through a startup’s marketing budget quickly with no return on investment – putting them in dire straits. When seeking a CMO, here are the qualities your team should look for: 

  1. Robust Marketing Capabilities: The marketing industry changes daily, and your CMO should be familiar with various marketing channels to keep up. For example, TikTok advertising is popular now, but a few years ago, the platform didn’t even exist. The person in this role should understand the big picture of marketing, have knowledge across all of the most effective channels, and have the ability to quickly learn, adapt, and execute new strategies when the opportunity presents itself. 
  2. Creative: CMOs should possess a high level of creative brilliance. Marketing is a competitive game. No matter what product your startup is promoting, there’s a competitor out there looking to eat your lunch – literally. A productive CMO has enough creativity to communicate the marketing message effectively, produce or oversee the production of excellent branded content, and explain the benefits of the product in a way that makes customers want to purchase it over competitive products. 
  3. Analytical: Effective marketing campaigns are those that are tested and optimized over time. The CMO you bring on board should be data-driven and confident in assessing marketing numbers to gain new insights. To optimize the campaigns, they will run A/B tests on ad copy, try out various types of content, and test different systems and platforms. The right candidate should have the analytical skills to assess the data, decide which channels deserve the most focus, and figure out what changes the campaign needs for maximum optimization. 

With an effective Director of Marketing, your startup should be able to quickly gain a presence in the market and begin nurturing loyal customers. 

How To Find Awesome Startup Team Candidates

With these five members, your startup will vastly improve its likelihood of success. However, finding great candidates isn’t easy, and it can be a tedious, frustrating, but necessary process. 

The first thing you need to do before approaching a candidate is to define exactly what your startup can offer them. People with amazing skills can work for any startup. To get their attention and commitment, you need a startup concept with real potential and the evidence to back it up. For them to commit their time and energy to your product, they need to believe wholeheartedly that they will receive a major return on their investment in the future. 

The traditional way of finding team members consists of networking, attending related events, shaking many hands, and introducing your business to as many people as possible. Post-pandemic, the event market may shift and these networking opportunities could remain limited. Fortunately, the internet exists, and there are many ways you can leverage the internet to find co-founders for your startup. For instance, you can reach out directly to professionals on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn platform is brilliant since you can see the candidate’s qualifications right on their profile. There are also platforms explicitly made for matching co-founders like Founder Dating, and even subreddits for individuals looking to join startup teams. 

Building the right team isn’t easy – but it is necessary. Take your time and find the players you need to create your dream team. Make sure you put the right pieces in your puzzle and that every piece fits into the big picture. When you’ve built the ideal team, investors will look at your startup with more confidence, and with every department managed by a qualified leader, your company will be in the ideal position for growth and success.

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