The ideal startup team

I was discussing with a friend (Stefanos) regarding the roles that we think a startup team should have. Of course it depends on many things, like what they are building but we tried to take a usual case and make suggestions.

First of all, the ideal size of the team

What is the ideal size? We think the ideal size is 3 to 4 people.
One founder is, most of the time, really difficult to succeed and he should be exceptionally good and experienced in running the operations and also have the vision.
Two founders may work sometimes. But they also may not be enough for taking an important decision and things can get hard when they disagree. Also, two founders can't have enough knowledge in all the fields needed to be covered and I strongly believe that a startup needs to give equal role and benefits to all of the important people which constitutes it.
More than 4 founders can result in an over-crowded team and make it difficult to make a decision.

Ideal roles

The business guy: He is the guy who knows the field around the idea and usually has the vision. He is the "face" of the business to the outside world. The usual thing is that he is the inspirer and the "leader". He is responsible for making the team fit and be nice together. He is also responsible for finding customers, receiving feedback, pitching the product to investors (if you need them) or in conferences and make the business famous. He may be responsible for managing the "external marketing" (adwords, advertising etc). It would be nice if he worked in the field before and it's important to have personal experience around this specific business. He may also need to do some customer support at least in the beginning.

The technical guy: He should be somebody with knowledge in many fields regarding the technical aspect. It isn't necessary to have deep knowledge in all of them (I think it is impossible) but he will take the decisions for the architecture, the frameworks and the tools they are gonna use. He must be a senior developer (I repeat, a really good and senior guy) and it is really important to have working experience (preferably in a startup... or in various startups, in which he would have different technical roles). He will be the project manager of the technical team.

UX/Marketing guy: This role is important in web startups but most of the time won't receive much attention. I discovered the value of it only after I ran my own business. I will call it the "internal marketing". There should be a guy responsible for the analytics, the A/B testing, the statistics and test the results of each decision. He may also test the design, be responsible for the look and feel and the personality of the business.

Common fails

The common fails I've seen on startups, regarding the roles:
  1. The business guy has all the equity and the rest of the team has nothing. It automatically means that he is responsible for everything and nobody else really cares about the business. If he convinced the others to work without the need of being paid well or without equity, it means they have been tricked and they may find it out sooner or later and let him alone searching for other "victims". He also doesn't have a clue for the technical part so he will trust anybody by giving him the most important role (of course without equity or with some minor stock options and many promises). Or even worse he won't have senior guys. You are running in a marathon, not in a sprint, take care of your team and treat them equally in everything (especially in money).
  2. The team consists only by technical guys. This may not be a big problem in the beginning but it is important to add a business guy sooner or later. Most of the time developers aren't very good interacting with other people. Of course always there are exceptions and sometimes a technical guy may become a "business guy". Someone who has the idea in the first place and he knows the field better than the others, he may prefer to take that role.
  3. Technical guy doesn't care. He has an equal equity but he isn't the right person for a startup, he just likes to code. He won't give much attention to the startup and he doesn't like to play the project manager role.
  4. Wrong people in the first place. You chose the wrong people, everybody has equal equity and now you can't tell somebody to leave because he eventually doesn't fit with the team.
  5. Business guys waiting the launch of the product and after the launch they focus on the wrong things. After the launch, they don't try to find customers but they focus on features that are missing and how to improve them (that's why I think the business guy should not do the work of the "internal marketing"-UX/marketing guy). In every product there would be use cases and features that are missing or can be improved. The important thing is to find customers that need the one core and specific feature you have built and they are going to use it. If you haven't one, then you did a bad decision at the first place and you didn't create the one killer workflow/feature your customer will fall in love with, instead you spent your time in irrelevant features.
  6. Lack of focus. They won't have a very clear goal, specific tasks, specific schedule every week.

Which role is the most difficult to find?

Most guys think it is the technical or the UX guy. Well, even though it is difficult to find senior level professionals in these fields (and in many more fields), it is even more difficult to find a business guy, which he will be a real leader. That's at least my opinion. I am trying to think how many business people I know personally which are also great leaders and I would like to work with them and I can't count more than 5 (ok maybe I don't have many connections...).


Of course there are much more problems and fails on startup teams and many more needs for other roles which it might be equally important, depending on your startup. I just did a small common list with what I have seen so far. Startup members must be ready to wear many hats and not afraid to leave their comfort zone by doing something else. Good luck.
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