Monday, November 24, 2008

Build a great team.

In today’s world, there's plenty of technology, plenty of entrepreneurs, plenty of money, plenty of venture capital ready to back good ideas. What's in short supply is great teams. Your biggest challenge will always be building a great team. All teams are incomplete all the time because you're always growing your team.

Most successful startups have a leader from whom everyone else takes their cues. VCs have a saying that, “If the light ain’t on at the top, it’s dark all the way down!” Great leaders are great communicators. They have unquestioned integrity and they're ruthlessly, absolutely intellectually honest. They’re great recruiters, always building their network of talented people. And they're great sales executives, always selling the value proposition of the enterprise. But it’s important to have excellence in the other functions as well. A great marketing company like Intuit had Scott Cook. At the heart of every great technology company is a technical genius. Apple had Steve Wozniak, Sun Microsystems had Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill Joy, Netscape had Marc Andreessen, @Home had Milo Medin.

Successful companies marry this kind of seasoned talent with people who have fresh perspectives. Many years of experience in an industry can sometimes turn out to be a detriment rather than an asset when looking for new ideas. Nanogen’s Chairman Howard Birndorf is an exception. He's Biotech’s Johnny Appleseed with nine startups under his belt (Nanogen, Hybritech, Glen-Probe, IDEC Pharmaceuticals, Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Nantronic, Neurocrine Biosciences, Gensia and Viagene). He says, “Look for people who are smarter than you, who both compliment and support your own skills. You need to find people who understand how to take risks, people who aren’t afraid of change, who can go from one day to the next with a big change in either direction without being blown away.” Kevin O’Connor, a cofounder of DoubleClick says, “The thing we most tended to look for in people was intelligence - and athleticism: people who loved to compete, who didn’t like to lose.”

Look for smart people who have a combination of experience, drive, commitment and passion. Getting that mix right is the difference between ventures that achieve greatness and startups that merely survive, or worse. The person’s priority has to be making the company successful, not getting a certain title or a private office or the like. In startups, it’s important to meet the spouse - they have to live with the 18-hour days, so they need to know the plan. Have your top people take assessment tests - then build the profile that’s worked for you and use it to hire new people - that way, you know what you’re looking for.

Creating a successful high tech company is as much about good people as good technology. Bill Gates says, “It’s important to have someone you totally trust, who is totally committed, who shares your vision, and yet who has a different set of skills and who can also act as a check on your ideas. Some of the ideas you run by him, you know he’s going to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, have you thought about this and that?’ The benefit of sparking off somebody like that is that it not only makes a business more fun, but it leads to a lot of success.”

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