10/10/2014

By Steve Jillings, CEO, TeleSign


Hell may be other people, but the alternative’s worse. Running your own start-up, or just working for one, is the most exhilarating and satisfying work experience you can have. However, finding the right team of people is crucial and arguably it’s the hardest part of running any business. Having a great idea in your home is relatively easy when you compare it to trying to convince 30 other people in a meeting room that they should give years of their career to that idea.

How do you find the perfect team? You can’t. How do you find a team will survive and thrive? With a tonne of effort, the right philosophy and a little luck. Working with start-ups for more than 25 years, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from my share of mistakes and more wrong decisions than I care to remember. It’s like seeing every movie out there; you start to know how they are going to end. In all that time I’ve learnt a bit about finding and retaining a strong working unit. Here are three things that will help others create something special in their start-up.

Constant

To have a consistently good team you have to be constantly recruiting. Look for high-quality people either through their reputation or by putting the word out there with your network. Once you’ve found a great person, don’t stop looking. There are two reasons: 1) hopefully you’re expanding quickly and will need more head count anyway. 2) It’s competitive out there and even if you offer the best pay, perks and exciting projects people will sometimes move on. There are so many factors that pressure an employee’s decision – spouses, children, family, geography, health and so on. No one can guarantee they’ll be anywhere forever.
Constantly recruit – find who the best people are and talk to them. Find out what they want and need, then put your company in a position to offer it to them.

Freedom

You just spent a huge amount of time and effort finding the right person, the worst thing you can do is treat them like an idiot. Give staff clear goals and the tools to achieve them. Let them know you’re available if they need support and set up short bi-weekly meetings to check on progress. And then let them rock and roll.

This isn’t ground breaking, but it’s something a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. You cannot be looking over the shoulder of every employee all the time. If you do have to do this, then perhaps the employee isn’t right for their role.

Failure

You delegate a task, provide a clear goal and give the employee the exact tools they need to do a good job. And they don’t do a good job. The employee fails. Sometimes that’s OK, it does happen. Employees need to be in a position where they are brave enough to fail; otherwise they will not be willing to pilot new projects or take a flyer on a risky new idea. Things that are vital to growth within every start-up.

Lately there’s been almost a fetishising of failure in the start-up community. Which I understand, up to a point. Failures can be the experience and fuel that propels us on to bigger and better things but it’s also necessary to understand there are different types of failure.

No matter how successful you get or how much money your business makes, you will never be more than a few steps away from the next big failure. The chances are it will be because of a decision you made or someone from your team made. Understand that mistakes and failures are coming and help your team learn to live with it. It’s not necessary to ‘embrace’ failure or ‘accept’ failure because obviously it’s not something that’s good all the time. However, if your team is already comfortable with the idea that not everything works perfectly you’ll be able to better deal with it when it comes.

Finding the right team is a struggle, there’s no simple trick to make it easy but I hope the above points might help keep the focus on what’s important. If you keep it constant, provide the freedom to perform and fail then you’ll be well on your way to a great group of staff. Then hopefully you’ll be able to get to that magic point where everyone automatically knows their spots, they know each other's personalities, they know each other's blind spots, and it enables the business to grow extremely rapidly. Being a part of something like that is one of greatest feelings in the world. Leaving a big part of what might be your life’s work to some fallible human might be scary but it’s completely necessary. Good luck.


Steve Jillings has more than 25 years of business-building experience, having been responsible for eight start-ups throughout his career including Vantage Media and FrontBridge, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2005 for more than $200m. Born in New Zealand, Steve has worked all over the world, but is now CEO of LA-based mobile identity pioneers TeleSign.