Recap from Our July 11th Team Building Workshop
By: Kurt Herzog, Special Projects Intern (email@example.com)
After a successful and exciting East Coast Academy (June 28-29), Cleantech Open Northeast hosted the first of eight workshops in our pilot Summer Workshop Series that will be held in Boston and New York. Over thirty cleantech entrepreneurs from states all over the Northeast traveled to the Cambridge office of our event host UK Trade and Investments on July 11th for a workshop centered around building and balancing your start-up team.
“Is there a kernel of kickassedness in this team? When you meet face to face, is there that spark, that huge upside, that passion that really comes through? World class attracts world class.”
- Jim Matheson, Flagship Ventures
The event was moderated by Rob Day (Black Coral Capital), who followed up on his previous presentation on team building at the East Coast Academy. Rob noted that it is crucial for start-ups to take an in-depth look at what their greatest weaknesses are so that they know which gaps to fill when looking to hire the next member of the team.
Rob then introduced the panelists: Jim Matheson (Flagship Ventures), Tod Hynes (XL Hybrids), and Jim Poe (Polachi). The panelists gave their respective opinions on team building problems common to startups such as whether to hire somebody with the correct skill set, or somebody with industry specific experience. The consensus answer, not surprisingly, was that you need somebody with the correct skill set and specific industry experience if a team wants to fill the identified talent gap. The panelists also discussed balancing the team to accomplish strategic goals with limited funding. At some point almost every startup will be stretched for funding, and attracting and hiring top talent with limited funds can be difficult task.
After some additional discussion (highlights below), the members of the audience broke off into small groups and performed a skills assessment of current employees. The panelists walked around to listen in and give advice to the workshop attendees. The panel reconvened, and members of the audience then volunteered to come up and propose their greatest weakness and what their next hiring position might be. The panelists gave audience members some tough love, but although humbling, they embraced the constructive criticism.
Make sure to check out and register for our next workshop this Wednesday, July 25th at the same UK Trade and Investment office in Cambridge, MA, where we will cover marketing and customer identification! Our entire workshop series is open to the public and we hope to see you there.
10 highlights and takeaway messages from the workshop:
1. Your gaps aren’t the most important part; it’s how you fill them that counts. Every startup has certain talent gaps, but how you fill in these gaps with the next hire is crucial to whether or not your company will succeed.
2. Identifying your weak points may be harder than you think. Too often a team focuses on the wrong weakness, and neglects a much greater problem. Get an objective outside opinion, or imagine what a team member’s next job would be if they stopped working for the startup; this can highlight their best skills.
3. Investors really do make decisions based on your team. As investor panelist Jim Matheson put it, when he is hearing a pitch, he asks himself, “Is there a kernel of kickassedness in this team? When you meet face to face, is there that spark, that huge upside, that passion that really comes through? World class attracts world class.”
4. Don’t settle for a less-than-great CEO. A market-facing executive, more than any other employee, needs to have the connections, relationships, and industry expertise. If there is one hire that a startup should not compromise on, it is the position of a market-facing executive. If a founding team member was playing this role in the past, he/she needs to understand when it is the right time to step aside. And don’t wait too long to hire an excellent CEO: it can have disastrous consequences for the growth and development of your company.
5. Hire for excellence in a specific area, not overall aptitude. In the long run you will be much better off finding somebody who is experienced in exactly the work that you need them to do, has the right skill set, and can devote the time needed to accomplish your strategic goals. Along the same lines, a few full-time people are always better than a larger staff of part-timers.
6. Don’t expect people to change drastically. One big mistake that startups make is expecting that people will substantially change in a relatively short amount of time to fill the needs of the company. At a startup there isn’t the time or resources to wait for someone to change; if someone isn’t working out or doesn’t contribute enough to justify their place in the company, it is time to make the tough decision.
7. Your next hire should probably be someone you don’t know. The panelists stressed that while it may be more comfortable to hire friends, former classmates, or colleagues, the person with the right mixture of experience and skills that you need to strengthen your team is often someone you don’t know.
8. To recruit the best, you have to prove yourself. If you are serious about attracting top-notch talent, you have to show what your company is capable of. Sometimes this can mean getting to market earlier than you expected, and possibly sacrificing some product development to prove that your idea has traction. Sometimes it means getting involved with a well-known larger company or investor to make potential hires feel more secure.
9. Always have a pipeline of contacts just in case. The startup world is volatile: people move away, switch companies, or don’t work out the way you thought they would. Don’t be afraid to bite the bullet and fire someone who isn’t contributing, and always make sure you have people ready to step in if needed.
10. You are not an oil company. Use the inherent “feel good” aspect of cleantech to your advantage when hiring, and make sure your ethics and company mission are strong. It will surprise you how many people are interested in more than the biggest paycheck.