One of the big myths about start-ups is that it’s really hard to get funding. This may have been more true in the past, but with funding announcements happening nearly every day, clearly, start-ups are managing to raise money. So what’s the difference between the funded and the whingers who go around complaining that no one will give them any money?
This is a more fundamental question than it might seem, and lies at the heart of successful funding – and actually, the subsequent success of the start-up – and that’s the quality of the team.
“Quality” can mean lots of different things, but in this context it means, do they have what it takes to execute their vision? The persistence, the mental toughness, the character to see their project through the rough times (and there will be rough times), as well as those lovely times when you enjoy the first few weeks of success.
Marc Lewis, the Dean of the School of Communication Arts puts it very well when he says that he wants his students to be “Yes, and..” people, not “No, but…” ones. It’s a great discipline to cultivate in your own attitude, a must for start-up teams and one that experienced investors look for relentlessly.
The leadership team simply needs to work really hard, be flexible and do whatever it takes to succeed. And, let’s face it, most people don’t have this, just as we can’t all be professional sports people or best-selling novelists.
The ideal team
What does the ideal team look like? I can think of plenty of successful founding teams consisting of solo founders (though this is a really tough gig), two and three people, but four seems too many. Doubtless there are some examples, but they don’t exactly trip off the tongue. But whatever the number, one of them needs to be ruthlessly, obsessively focussed on product. If you’re a single founder, that’s going to be you.
Other useful team members are certainly those responsible for tech, and a business person can be useful – sadly, for us business people, we’re just not as necessary as the other two areas in the early stages. And certainly, if I see a team consisting of three MBAs, with a great track record in corporate finance, alarm bells are clanging in my head.
I personally, also think team diversity is vital for success – diversity in gender (I’d love to see more women founders), culturally and in skill sets. There are loads of studies indicating that these types of diversity lead to greater success.
I’m now more than halfway through writing this article, and am still banging on about teams. That’s no accident – everything else comes secondary.
I’d say that The Big Idea comes next. However, as this stage, The Big Idea is only a hypothesis and can (and might have to be) changed numerous times before the success seam is uncovered – hence the importance of the team and the ruthless focus on product. The one thing I would say though, is that the idea for the business must be solving a real problem the target customer genuinely has, and indeed, many start-ups seek to resolve some pain in the founders’ own lives or professions. The critical question around this area is: are you doing it because it can be done, or because there’s a real need for it?
Finally, the idea should take into account how rapidly the world is changing, driven by exponential technology evolution. This means that if your view of the idea is the world today, by the time you launch, and certainly as the idea takes off, it stands a real danger of being completely irrelevant. As an example, if the idea doesn’t put mobile at its very centre – say, it’s very PC centric – it’s almost certainly not going to work.
People have written books about this subject, and I clearly can’t cover everything in a few hundred words. But if you can look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you have a great team and a great idea, your start-up might well be in danger of attracting some interest among potential investors.
To find out more about our start-up competition taking place in Barcelona next month, head for: www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/mixer
The entry deadline is 25 Jan.
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