Who are the Ideal Members of a Startup Team and Why?
November 23, 2020

Just like a baking a cake without eggs can be a recipe for disaster, a startup without an entrepreneur is a prescription for failure. But it doesn’t have to be. Just as you can substitute applesauce for eggs when baking a cake, according to UNeTech Senior Ventures Analyst Erik Peterson, you can finesse your startup team with the right combination of skills as well. If your team is small, but has the right skillsets, it can be a success. Just like your cake can survive without eggs.

According to Peterson, it’s not necessarily about having the traditionally right people on the team—an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a funder—it’s instead about filling the skillsets and roles needed for the team that will lead to success for your new startup. On a small team, this means team members may have more than one role. “This is one of the most attractive aspects of a startup to me—as a team member,” Peterson said. “Each day allows team members to use different skills and to learn new skills when no one on the team is an expert.”

From there, he said there are four critical roles the teams need to address: outward-facing, inward-facing, operations, and fundraising. These roles can be filled with just one person or with a larger team. It’s not so much about how many people make up the team, but about making sure that the skillsets are filled that will lead to success for a startup.

First, Peterson said, is an outward-facing role. For Peterson, this includes sales, marketing, customer support, and customer evangelism. “I have worked with startups where all these roles are performed by one person—the CEO or President,” Peterson said.  “However, as the startup grows, it’s important that each of these are delegated to people who can commit more and more energy and time to them.”

Second, for Peterson, the team needs to include someone who focuses on inward-facing skills.

This includes the “building” of the product, whether that’s software development, engineering some physical product, or performing the services, the startup is building itself around. As a company grows, these responsibilities are held by engineers and quality assurance specialists, for example, as well as logistics and operations types of roles to make sure resources are available to the “builders” and to make sure the products and services actually reach customers.

Third, a startup must have at least one person who manages the operations of the business, including accounting, finance, human resources, employee benefits and insurance, and work space.

Fourth, a team member will need to focus on fundraising if the startup is using external funding. This could fall under the duties of the CEO, a grant writer or even a financial officer.

Peterson was quick to note that when the startup has only one team member, that one person is responsible for all of these roles. But in a larger team, the roles are split up. “Some duties don’t require someone to be focused on them full-time but, instead, they may need the whole team to swarm on them at a moment’s notice when necessary,” Peterson said. He gave examples of customer support, quality assurance, logistics, and operations.

Finally, Peterson reminds new startups that “it is important for the team to be honest with themselves about when additional help is needed after periods of growth or prior to pursuing larger strategic goals.”

In a pinch you can substitute applesauce for eggs or yogurt for buttermilk, but at some point you will need all the right ingredients to bake something truly spectacular. Similarly, startups can use the team in place to fill all the necessary roles for a short time; but eventually your startup will need every role filled by a dedicated specialist.


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