02-09-2020

What makes a winning startup team? 8 tips to focus on when hiring a team

Building a winning team is one of the most important tasks for startup founders. While the star of your company is your offering, without a strong team to support it, success is nigh on impossible.

Mikko Huumo

When building a team, start from evaluating yourself and your co-founders. This is an obvious and important step that can be easily overlooked. Take time to be absolutely clear about your own abilities and why you are doing what you are doing. Self-confidence combined with the humility that comes from a keen awareness of your own limitations will guide you in your recruitment and management of team members.

From there, focus on the “team” aspect of your hiring decisions. It is no exaggeration to draw parallels between startup teams and team sports. There are numerous examples where teams made up of the “best” players fail to succeed, while teams composed of merely “good” players triumph by working flawlessly together. As Michael Jordan put it, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

So, our first tip in hiring a team goes:

  • Don’t hire stars, hire team players.

Strength in diversity

It is as poignant today as ever: there is strength in diversity.

Ethnic and gender diversity, different educational or business background – all these aspects of team members can make the team stronger as a whole. There is a wider understand of your potential customer base and different viewpoints bring the kind of creativity and potential that you don’t otherwise get.

In small teams, personalities matter a lot. Team chemistry needs to work, but this doesn’t mean you should have a monotonous culture. A mix of personalities can be a huge source of energy and excitement. Instead of thinking if a new team member is a “team fit”, evaluate what new will they bring to your team and if they could be “team adds”.

A startup team must have a certain set of hard skills depending on your offering, such as software or hardware engineering. However, those skills need to be complemented by equally strong soft skills, i.e. people skills. A diverse team with strong people skills lead to a dynamic workforce that can support and encourage each team member.

Here follow our next rules:

  • Focus on diversity both on skillset level and background level.
  • Hire “team adds”, not just “team fits”.

Set objective goals with a clear vision

Whoever joins your team must know what they need to do and why. Everyone needs to share your vision and find self-motivation from that vision. The story you tell lays the foundation for team motivation.

Equally important, each team member should understand the goals in real-world, practical terms. In other words, how do you define success?

When you sit down with a potential recruit, paint a realistic picture of the job. If expectations are not in line, you can end up with the wrong teammates: they won’t perform at their full potential and may leave you stranded at the worst time.
Early on, you will have a tiny team with various roles. They will not have time to guide and direct other team members as in a large organization with established process. This is where experience, well-honed skills and motivation come into play. Self-starters and problem-solvers are essential for the early success of startups.

Our tips:

  • Build a story around your company’s vision that your team can relate.
  • Be clear about the long-term vision, KPIs and personal or team-specific goals already during the recruitment process.

Your role as the leader

Hire people smarter than you, as the saying goes.

That is not the complete story, though. You need to hire them, and then let them do their job. Micro-managing or insisting on making all the decisions defeats the point of having a smart, solid team around you.

However, your team still needs a leader. The journey towards attaining short- and long-term goals for certain will be bumpy. Supporting your team and helping them get through setbacks while regularly praising successes large and small will be among your primary tasks. Positive feedback works wonders.

Remember: You are building a team for the long haul. Your initial 5-10 employees will set the tone for years to come. Mutual trust and self-less behavior allow room for failure and for growth. Compensate for the inherent risks of a startup by creating an authentic, sustainable culture of camaraderie. A clear mind and confidence in teammates allow everyone to focus on what needs to be done to win the big prize.

Where to focus:

  • Hire people wo can have both immediate impact and long-term potential.
  • Forget micro-managing. Seriously. Stop doing that.

Why do investors care about your team?

Because investors don’t only invest to the idea, they also invest in founders and the management team who’ll make the idea into reality.

“If the startup doesn’t have the right team to execute the idea, even the greatest business concept might result as a mediocre product. We invest both in the idea, and the people,” says Mikko Huumo from Helen Ventures.

As an investor, we look at many aspects of the team, such as industry experience, skills, and personalities. Additionally, we also look at how the founders deal with feedback. Do our industry insights lead to actions, or are they ignored? This gives us strong indication how the collaboration will work.

Usually, VCs and CVCs also have an incentive and resources to train your team. Will it be scaling one marketing channel, doing sales efficiently, or telling industry specific tips and tricks, we want to share our expertise to make your team shine!

If you remember only one, remember this:

Take this as an encouragement to invest your time and effort in the recruitment: as much as investors invest in your idea, they also invest in founders and team behind the idea.


Do you have a promising idea and an excellent team? We are interested in hearing about you!

Drop us a line: hello@helenventures.fi

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