Category Archives: Team

Fighting Amongst Yourselves Is a Great Way to Die

In the early days of developing an idea, it is critical that you challenge every assumption behind that idea. That kind of questioning will either make the idea stronger and more crisp, or it will tear down its facade and reveal that there was nothing behind it.

It is tempting, when first assembling your team, to surround yourself with people that are just like you. These people share your interests, your sense of humor and your passions so it makes it easy to get along and agree on ideas. An environment where your team is universally similar in these ways is known as a monoculture and it poses a serious danger: If everyone agrees with you, who will question your ideas?

At the same time, you cannot afford to waste the limited time and effort you have with endless arguments about ideas and strategy. After questioning your idea and evaluating it objectively, your team needs to be able to make a decision and move on. I call this the difference between debating and arguing. You want to debate and not argue, and here is how you can tell the difference.

Debating (Good)

  • People come prepared to a discussion on the issue with background and well thought out explanations for their opinion.
  • There is a decision making framework that is used to evaluate all options.
  • People leave the discussion(s) having either changed their minds or compromised on a clear solution.
  • There are consistent retrospectives to evaluate decisions and whether they were correct.

Arguing (Bad)

  • You discuss the same issue at least 3 times with no clear progress.
  • You leave discussions about the issue with no clear agreement and everyone still married to the ideas that they had when they entered.
  • Side discussions start to erupt among factions with different points of view that don’t include people with differing opinions.
  • There is no objective framework for making a decision, or to evaluate if the decision was correct. Instead, decisions are constantly revisited with the same reasoning again and again.

Using these definitions, debating allows you to move quickly to handle issues with a reliable process. Arguing drains energy away from your goals by having everyone focus on the argument instead of on the strategy.

In many companies, the CEO prevents the team from falling into the trap of arguing by making decisions themselves by executive decree. Sometimes that is necessary and there is a reason that CEOs exist. However, if you find yourself having to use the CEO stick often you will prevent your team from developing decision making skills and stunt the maturity of your organization. Empowering your team to debate issues and then decide will scale with your company as you grow.

Monitoring whether your team is debating or arguing is an important way to gauge how well your team is working. If you spend a lot of time arguing, it’s time to make a change.

The Sacred Art of Team Building

You are a person, and chances are high that everyone you add to your team will be a person too. Teams are, of course, made of people which makes building them significantly harder than building products. Great teams will help you overcome difficult challenges and bad teams can fail to capitalize on even the biggest opportunities.

As your company grows, the kinds of people you hire for your team will change as well. Here are some common phases of a company’s lifecycle and what I recommend looking for in the people you hire:

Pre-funding (1-5 people)

When your team is very small, every single person is critical for success. A single bad actor can distract the rest of your team enough to keep you from even getting started. This is not the time to cut corners, every hire should be amazing and make you feel lucky to have them on your team. Follow 5 Rules for Choosing a Cofounder for all of your hires at this stage.

Who you want:

  • The best people you can find. Start by making a list of the 10 best people you have ever worked with in your life and try recruiting them. These should not necessarily be your 10 best friends, but the 10 most productive and passionate people.
  • People with complementary skills. You don’t want only engineers or only sales people at this stage. You need a mix of people that will help you move in multiple directions at the same time.
  • Generalists who can play many different roles, as you have no idea what you will need to ask them to do.
  • Self-motivators. You won’t have time to motivate your team at this point, so everyone should be able to motivate themselves to be as productive as possible. Self motivators are easy to spot since they are constantly doing interesting things in their free time and going above and beyond their job description.

Who you don’t want:

  • Specialists who only want to perform one task or duty. These people become a drag quickly as the company evolves and the task they want to perform becomes less important or non-existent.
  • People not experienced or not ready for the emotional roller coaster. The early days are intense and if you hire someone who isn’t ready for the extremes they will not be happy and that is dangerous. It is hard to be sure if someone is ready without prior experience, so you should try to focus on people you have seen in action.
  • If possible, anyone that isn’t living in the same city. Remote teams at this stage can be done, and done well, but it’s a challenge you should not undertake unless absolutely necessary.

Seed Funded (5-20 people)

Your team is growing and hopefully your product is coming together. You should be well on your way to Product/Market Fit and you need to make sure your team is built to get there. At this point it is important to be sure you can scale your product and lay the foundation for your business.

Who you want:

  • People with experience in your industry or with similar products. These people can help you avoid pitfalls and save you valuable time by not having to learn things the hard way.
  • Leaders. The people you hire now will become the leaders in your organization as it grows so choose wisely. Would you trust the people on your team now to build teams of their own in 12 months? The answer should be yes.
  • Life-long students. There will be an amazing amount to learn as your company grows and you want people who are eager to learn new things and adapt. These people will also be the best at handling the ambiguity of your company’s evolution since they will see it as another learning opportunity.

Who you don’t want:

  • People who focus solely on the internal operations of your business. The time for CFOs, admins and other business operations people will come later but for now you need to focus all your company’s resources on proving you have a viable business. Over-investing in your operations is a great way to have a well run company that runs out of money.
  • People looking for the next big thing. Once you start to get traction, job hoppers will start to show up and you will notice them because they have not spent more than a year at their last 3 jobs. These people are not the bedrock you need to build your team upon since they will jump ship the minute a more exciting company comes along.
  • Anyone who is set in their ways. If someone justifies their decision making by saying that they have done this a dozen times before, that should be a red flag. No matter how many times you have done something if you can’t explain why it is a good idea then you are just clinging to the familiar.

Venture Funded (20-50)

You have proven your product appeals to customers, it is time to prove that you can generate revenue and grow. This is both an exciting time but an extremely high risk time. Most companies that survive the very early days will die here.

Who you want:

  • CEOs in waiting. You need to have people on your team that you feel could jump into the CEO position if necessary. These people understand the entire business, strategy and market inside and out. They have a great relationship with investors and can provide the support/advice you need on a daily basis.
  • Project leads. Gone are the days when you could manage the business yourself, it’s gotten too big. You need people who you can give direction and be absolutely sure that with no further interaction will execute flawlessly.
  • Samurai. These are the brilliant individual contributors that wander between the functions of your company solving the most difficult problems. They are more than just firefighters, they are the glue that keeps the company moving forward. In many ways they are the informal leadership of the company who might not have direct reports, but make sure the gears are turning.

Who you don’t want:

  • Trophy executives. These are people you add to your team exclusively because of their pedigree and not because you have a clear need. Your investors will be eager to add executives to your team that have solid resumes and give them piece of mind that the company is in good hands. Hiring people with strong track records is great, but you should have an equally strong reason to hire someone that goes beyond their resume. If the only reason you are hiring someone is because “they were at Facebook” then you should reconsider.
  • Professional middle managers. There will be a time when managing will be a full time job but your team isn’t there yet. Hiring middle management too early will add bureaucracy and slow down your execution. Empower your leaders with more responsibility instead of looking outside for management help.

Scaling (50-500)

You have proven your business is viable and now it’s time to scale that business as large as you can. The question now is whether you can go from $10M to $100M to $1B (and maybe $10B).

Who you want:

  • If you don’t already have them, you need a CFO and a finance organization. There will be so much money flowing around that someone needs to keep track of it and make sure it flows in the right direction.
  • Entire teams. Growing at this stage is a numbers game, one that is easier to play if you can hire entire teams instead of just individuals. Acqui-hires are one good route, but you can just as easily hire someone and then ask them to refer members of their previous team. Hiring a team all at once accelerates team productivity since they have already worked together, assuming their chemistry matches yours.
  • Evangelists. Gone is the time when you know everyone who works at your company, and without significant effort there will be employees that you will never meet. You need to make sure there are people in your organization that share your passion for the business and can convey that to the people you can’t reach. Those are not always leaders, just team members that are full of passion.

Who you don’t want:

  • Distractions. At this stage many people will try to pull your company into new markets or into new directions. That kind of diversity is just a distraction for you since you need to grow the business you have already. If someone is constantly suggesting drastically new ideas, perhaps they would be better off starting their own company.
  • Tons of outsourced/contract employees. The pressure to grow your team will be intense, and outsourcing is always an easy solution. However, unless your company has made outsourcing part of its core operations, the overhead associated with it can overwhelm you. You also need to think of your team as your competitive advantage so don’t outsource your company’s core competency. That being said, you should consider outsourcing everything that is not your core competency.
  • People who refuse to grow with the company. The reality is that not everyone you hired previously will want to grow along with the company. They might have been excellent when you were smaller, but if they cling to the way things were they will start to hold you back. You will need to part ways with some of these people, but be sure to treat them fairly when you do.

Enterprise (500+)

Enterprise companies are different environments. At this point your business is growing strong, your organization is in place and you are operating like a big company because you are a big company. Your biggest challenge is continuing to grow despite having less agility and higher costs.

Who you want:

  • People who love your industry. You don’t have the promise of being the next big thing since you already are a big thing, so you won’t attract the starry eyed start up crowd. However, there are plenty of talented people who want stability and love your product/industry. Those people will still see your company as more than a job, they will see it as an opportunity to do what they love.
  • Innovators who will drive change from within your company. These are people who have the entrepreneurial spirit but don’t want to go out on their own. They can keep your company from stagnating by pushing you ahead and preventing stagnation.

Who you don’t want:

  • People who enjoy playing office politics. These people are usually easy to spot as they talk fluently about product, business and industries but are short on details. When you press into what they accomplished on their own, details are scarce. These people pull down the productivity of your entire company.
  • Resume builders. These people are looking for a specific title that seems a well beyond their experience. Chances are that they did this their last few jobs as well so they are well beyond their skill set even with their current level. You should take chances on promising up and comers but make sure they are the real deal and not the result of years of title inflation.

Team building is an art, not a science, so you will make mistakes. When you do, recognize it quickly and correct the problem immediately since waiting only makes it worse.

How do you know you have built a great team? If you wake up in the morning and realize that your team would do amazing things even if you didn’t go into the office, you are on the right track.

This was a Blog by Request, requested by @myatlyuka. Is there something you would like to see me write about? Just drop me a line. 

The Journey

After almost nine years, today is my last day as an employee of Flurry. I will remain involved and on the board, but it is the end of a significant chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. It is a bittersweet day for me.

I have been lucky over these nine years. Most start up companies fail in the first few months, many others in their first year. Not only has Flurry survived, it has thrived and now employs 150 people with a large and growing business. Today, Flurry is recognized as a central part of the mobile world and provides a clear voice for this new industry.

Along the way, I have been lucky enough to enjoy front row seats for the mobile revolution as it has changed the world. Starting in 2005, back when everyone believed the carriers controlled the world, Flurry has been at the center of mobile applications. Flurry grew up with the industry and as it changed so did we. When the Motorola RAZR became the hottest phone on the market, we were there. When the iPhone changed the definition of a phone forever, we were there. When Android was released as the first free mobile OS, we were there. When the iPad, Kindle and Nexus devices introduced us to the idea of a tablet, we were there. These important moments in the history of business were also moments in the life of Flurry, woven together like a tapestry to tell the story of this amazing revolution.

I am proud of Flurry and what we have been able to accomplish. I am proud of how many mobile developers we have helped to succeed, some of them beyond our wildest dreams. I am proud of the team we assembled and how we were able to do so much while still having so much fun. I am proud of the moments when we were faced with impossible odds and found a way to succeed.

My journey with Flurry has been amazing, but now our paths diverge. I leave the company in great hands with a promising future and will enjoy watching it grow from the sidelines. For the first time in nine years I will have a chance to catch my breadth, relax, and recharge my batteries. There are many adventures left to be had and I am eager to discover them.

So, what’s next?

5 Rules for Choosing a Co-Founder

It is extremely scary to start a new company. The risk of failure is high and the workload is intense, so it’s not a coincidence that few people start companies alone. However, many companies fail not because of their market, product or finances but because the founding team has a falling out due to interpersonal problems. Choosing the right co-founder(s) is critical to avoiding those pitfalls and boosting your chances of success.

When you are looking for a co-founder (or co-founders), these are some of the questions you should ask:

  1. Have you worked together before? People behave differently under heavy stress, especially when a lot of money is on the line. Just because you are old friends with someone does not mean you know how they react when things get tough, and in many cases it would surprise you. If you worked together in a highly stressful environment with someone then you know how they handle pressure and you have settled at least a few disputes successfully. Not everyone is ready for the pressure cooker of starting a company and you do not want to learn the hard way that your co-founder is not.
  2. Do you have the same runway? If you have enough savings to last two years (which I recommend) and your co-founder has only six months, then your company only has a six month runway. That is rarely enough time to prove your idea and test it, so you will be making short cut decisions you might not otherwise make. Resentment will grow in both directions and decision making will become harder since you each have different perspectives. If you have the same runway you will both be on equal footing.
  3. Do you want the same thing from the business? Never assume that others have the same goals and motivations that you have. People build companies for many reasons including money, fame, curiosity, boredom and desperation. Whatever your reasons, make sure you are clear and explicitly ask your co-founder about theirs. If you are looking to solve a big market problem but they just want to flip a company quickly then you will find yourself fighting over key decisions.
  4. Do you have complementary skills? Far too many companies are started by people with exactly the same skills. This seems like a good idea at first when there is a lot of code to be written and having two coders is faster than one. However, once the code is written, who will do the marketing, sales, fundraising, customer support, etc.? Bringing on a co-founder with complementary skills gives you a better chance of success by diversifying your companies strengths early. I have seen many teams of engineers write a lot of code and become helpless when their product is not magically adopted by customers. Think about your strengths and weaknesses  and find people who are strong where you are weak.
  5. Do you really, really like each other? This seems like the silliest question but is probably the most important. For any potential co-founder, ask yourself if you would want to be trapped in your apartment with them for a week. You will spend so much time with their person that you really better like them a whole lot.

Even if you can answer yes to all these questions does not mean you will be in perfect sync with your co-founder(s). At the end of the day someone has to be in charge and it needs to be you, the CEO. I agree with Mark Suster who recommends hiring your co-founders, making you the majority shareholder and clear head of the company which helps reduce the impact of co-founder issues.