This post is the second in a series of ten posts about the 10 key reasons your consumer startup will succeed.
I speak with hundreds of aspiring consumer entrepreneurs and review thousands of executive summaries and pitches each year. From all this activity, certain patterns emerge that remain consistent with successful consumer startups. In this series of 10 blog posts, I will list the top 10 reasons consumer startups succeed. Note that all seem necessary, but none on their own are sufficient.
#2 Founding Team
Now that you have clearly articulated a vision worth fighting for, we’re ready to move onto the second most important reason for your company’s success — the team. Many argue that this is the most important, and that might be correct.
There’s no magic formula for the right founding team for a consumer startup, but certain key factors can help guide you. First, at Maven, we tend to back a team of founders rather than an individual founder. The ideal number is 2 or 3 founders and the ideal makeup of skills would be a ‘hacker, designer, and hustler’. The reason we prefer a team over an individual founder is quite simple — building startups is a lonely business and the founders are more likely to be successful if they have at least one other person who’s as invested as they are — in the trenches battling the good fight every day. With a team, founders have true partners to confide in, and to comfort and seek comfort from when things are not going well — which is most of the time for early-stage startups. With co-founders, it’s less likely that you’ll simply give up too soon. It’s also good to have someone to help keep you grounded when things are going really well (that doesn’t happen as often, but when it does, it can be blinding and toxic for founders).
If you were thinking of going it alone, hopefully you’re now convinced to go find your co-founder(s) before you launch your startup. There’s been quite a bit written on the skill sets desired on the co-founding team, so I won’t rehash that now. However, I will emphasize that at Maven, we have a very strong preference for at least one of the founders to be highly technical. Ideally, this founder is actually building or coding the site or product. One of the misperceptions of consumer startups is that technology isn’t important. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter never would have scaled to the successes they’ve achieved without incredible technical teams. If you don’t have the technical chops to build and scale your own website, app, or product, make sure that one of your co-founders does.
We also encourage founders not to outsource their technical development to contractors or third party sources. In our experience, this almost never works and you’re going to either fail, or end up having to rebuild everything from scratch in-house later. Might as well do it right from the beginning, and start with in-house development now.
Beyond the hard facts like number of co-founders and technical abilities, we screen for a variety of soft skills, experiences, and personality traits as well. We love working with founders who have previous startup experience, even if their former company wasn’t wildly successful. It isn’t a requirement for receiving funding from us, but founding a company is a steep learning curve. So anyone who has formed a business, built a team, raised funding, and launched a product before has a leg up. Personalities matter a lot, too. We want to work with great, passionate people. We’ll talk more about the Maven culture in another post, but we want founders who resonate with our own values. They need to be solid people who are great leaders capable of articulating their “vision worth fighting for” and capable of raising money for their venture. Excellent communication skills and leadership are critical to building a team and financing.
Finally, on the personality note, one last thought on founding teams that you might have heard — take this very seriously. It’s like a marriage. In fact, you’ll likely be spending more time with your co-founders than your family, spouse, significant other, and friends. We like to invest in founding teams that know each other and ideally have worked together in the past.