You know this scenario – the day has come for you to put on your adultiest outfit to pitch your venture to a room full of potential investors, the people who want to give you a check to help get your business model off the ground. Your palms are sweating, your knees feel weak, your arms are heavy, but hopefully, there’s not vomit on your sweater already (especially if it’s your mom’s leftover spaghetti). You’re mumbling keynotes from your PowerPoint to yourself as you walk in the room. You know that there are five key elements your business is going to be graded on by the people you are asking to trust in you and your idea with their money;
- PROBLEM: what problem are you solving and why?
- MARKET: who are you solving this problem for and how do you solve it for them?
- PRODUCT/SERVICE: how are you solving the problem for your market and why is it better?
- TIMING: is your market ready and willing to pay for your solution to their problem?
- TEAM: who is helping you roll out your product/service to your market and why them?
- PROJECTIONS: how will your venture make money and how soon will it be profitable?
The first rule of any pitch is this: know your audience. Who are the investors you’re pitching to, why them, and what do you know they want to see from your business model? Some may be more focused on financial returns or the social impact your venture can make. Others might feel more attuned to your markets or be familiar with a competitive product/service you offer. Regardless, the number one aspect your investors will be, um…invested, in during your pitch isn’t your product or service, or even how you project to make them all billions of dollars with the next unicorn idea in 5-10 years.
It’s your team.
Potential investors aren’t just going to be handing YOU a check for equity, they are investing in the team of people you are building to help your idea grow into a sustainable organization. Those investors are going to make damn sure you are spending THEIR money on hiring the right people to do it. Who are these people? What are their qualifications, their strengths, and weaknesses? What gaps remain in your team and how do you plan to fill them? Is your team committed to the big picture? How do you know? Above all else: is your team passionate about – and dedicated to – solving the problem your venture aims to with your product or service? Because as with any healthy relationship, including the one between you and your team as well as you and your investors, nothing will snuff out the flames of passion quicker than a lack of dedication.
You can have the greatest pitch in history with millions in positive cash flow but if your team doesn’t convince your investors, grab a shovel and start digging the hole you’re making for your venture.
If digging holes doesn’t sound like your thing – but no shame if it is – then keep reading on because today I’m going to help give you some tips on how to build a world-class team for your venture.
STEP 1: THE ORG CHART
So, where do you begin? If you have a rough idea of how many people you will need to help you run your business and turn it into an attractive investment, the first thing you need to do is map out an Organization an Accountability Chart. This will show you what roles you need to hire for, why you need to hire them, which roles are responsible for which responsibilities, and who they report to in your venture’s hierarchy. This chart looks different for every business, especially before and in its Seed stage, and its size and structure will vary widely depending on your market as well as the solution your product or service provides for that market. For instance, if your venture is mostly driven by online sales, do you need hires to build and maintain your website, e-commerce store, and customer inquiries or can these be outsourced? If your venture focuses on manufactured goods are you planning to hire a team of engineers or contract an established firm to produce your goods for your customers?
Most importantly, reflect on yourself – your own strengths and weaknesses – what do you know you are the best at doing, and what are roles or tasks you’re not good at or hate doing? If you know you’re the mastermind visionary of your business and plan to be for a while, place yourself in the role of CEO and map out your organization under you. If leadership isn’t your strong suit but technology research and development, or cultivating lifelong customer relationships is, place yourself in the role of CTO or CMO respectively and see what other spots you have left to fill. Once you get to go through the first few iterations of your Organization and Accountability Chart, you can begin the process of lining out who you want to hire and, more importantly, why you want to hire those people specifically because those first few hires you bring aboard are going to lay the foundation of your organization’s culture with you.
STEP 2: CULTURE
“Culture” is one of those words that seemingly everyone has their own interpretation of. This is because every culture is different and everyone you meet has their own understanding of what it entails through their own experiences and what they have been conditioned to believe as “proper,” “tradition,” or “nature.” When people ask me, “what type of culture should I cultivate for my business,” I tend to respond along the lines of, “what kind of culture did you grow up in, were you comfortable in it, and where people from outside that culture comfortable in it?” While this usually generates a reply consisting of anecdotes and emotions from their childhood, I purposely ask it to lead them into the question of, “is that culture you’re describing to me now going to be a reflection of the one you aim to build in your organization?”
THIS is where the rubber starts to meet the road.
As you think about how you plan to fill in the gaps in your team through your Organization and Accountability chart – before you begin to think about who (i.e., which candidates) will fill those roles – ask yourself what kind of candidates you want to fill those roles. The answer to this question should directly fall in line with the core values you generate for your business.
Where your Organization Chart will allow you to map accountability and reporting hierarchy within your organization, the core values you choose to structure your business around will lay a foundation for the ethics through which that hierarchy will remain accountable to itself and to each other. Not only this, they will also force you to consistently ask yourself the difficult question of “right person, right seat”. Is the person currently in their current position the right person for the right seat? Are they the wrong person for the right seat, or the right person for the wrong seat? Your worst-case scenario will always be “wrong person, wrong seat” which should immediately raise a flag for you to begin the grueling process of termination, but we can cover this in greater detail in a separate blog post later on. Remember that the core values you generate will not only lay the foundation for your company’s culture and ethics, they will act as the guide by which you regularly evaluate your team’s performance and rate new hires during interviews. Speaking of new hires…
STEP 3: HIRING
You’re finally here, at the meat and potatoes of it all – your organization chart is finally mapped out, you have a solid list of core values to guide the ethics of your company, you’ve sent out inquiries on the positions you need to hire for and have screened through the applications to arrive here: the interview.
Every hiring manager and the interviewer has their own process for conducting interviews, including a typical list of go-to questions to ask the candidates during the process. Some (or even most) of these questions are to help you find out more about the quality of your candidate’s characteristics to help you learn about how they function in the workplace: how qualified is the candidate for the position you are interviewing them for? How well are they able to deliver results? Are they able to digest constructive criticism to improve their performance? While you should have an idea of their answer to these questions prior to interviewing them, the interview process should hopefully provide you specific details to these answers. The best candidates do not simply answer your questions a la a bullet-point questionnaire but will be fully engaged throughout the interview and turn it into a mutual discussion on your organization’s goals, the processes it will use to achieve those goals, and what is expected of each department, role, etc. within those processes.
One issue that I have run into in past jobs I was interviewed for is that the person who interviewed me frequently asked questions specifically related to the position I applied to, but almost never asked me questions related to their company’s culture. When I was asked at the end of the interview, “do you have any questions for us,” I would always ask them questions about the culture of the company, and not a simple, “what does a ‘typical’ day look like at this company?” These questions need to be tailored for the position I was being interviewed for, the company I was looking to be hired by, and the person(s) conducting my interview. Likewise, when you interview potential hires – regardless of position or role – you should ask them questions relevant to your company’s culture. If you aren’t sure which questions to ask, the best place to start is your list of core values or business ethics from Step 2.
If integrity and honesty is a core value of your business, instead of asking them, “are you an honest person?”, ask questions similar to:
“When was the last time you broke a promise, and what did you do to make it right?”
“Can you describe a time when you were ‘thrown under the bus’ by someone? How did you react?”
Is professional and personal growth a value you wish employees to cultivate? Instead of making small talk about hobbies and interest (although you should still do this to get to know the person who will be working for you), ask interview questions along the lines of:
“When was the last time you did something for the first time? Would you do it again? Why/why not?”
“What books are you currently reading? Do you have a favorite book/author/genre?”
If your business is heavily focused on employees meeting regular quotas, don’t simply ask them questions like, “can you sell?” or “how do you ensure you hit your numbers each week?” Ask them questions during the interview that mirror these sentiments:
“What measures do you take to cultivate meaningful relationships with clients?”
“Do you get easily defeated when you don’t generate the results you want? Why/why not?”
Is sustainability a big part of your company’s culture? Does your business lead with purpose over profit? If so, avoid questions like, “what does sustainability mean to you?” and ask questions similar to:
“When was the last time you went out of your way to help someone? Why? What was the outcome?”
“How do you personally practice sustainability in your daily life?”
Remember that it is up to YOU to generate a list of interview questions specific to your company’s culture and values. Questions related to specific roles and responsibilities may vary, but the questions that will give you insight as to whether or not the person you are hiring will fit the culture you want to cultivate for your employees will remain relatively unchanged. If you’re sick of hearing the word “culture” by now, too bad. The culture of your company will have the most direct impact on your employees’ (and therefore, your company’s) performance. So even though you may be itching to get to Step 3 of this process and begin onboarding your key hires to get your business in…well, business, do not – and again, I cannot stress this enough – do not skimp out on drafting, revising, and redrafting the core values, ethics, code of honor (or whatever you want to call it) for your venture.
Will it take more time than you want it to? Probably. Will the payoff be worth it? Absolutely.
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If you want more information on how to build a world-class team for your business or any other venture, our team recommends the following reads:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Traction by Gino Wickman Mike Paton
Get A Grip: An Entrepreneurial Fable by Gino Wickman & Mike Paton
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
Build an A-Team by Whitney Johnson
The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman & Paul White
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek