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Building a High-Performing Team at a Startup

By Miguel Gutiérrez-Barquín - Draftea
Founding Team


By Miguel Gutiérrez-Barquín | Founding team - Tue, 04/12/2022 - 11:00

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Revenue is widely believed to be a startup’s most important metric. Occasionally, investors prefer to focus on understanding the unit economics of a business plan and force founders to spend days creating discounted cash flow models to estimate the startup’s valuation. Obviously, these figures are essential in an established business but they are certainly not what I would count on if I wanted to decide what startup to invest in, or, even more importantly, which one to dedicate my professional life to.

A spreadsheet will never determine whether a startup can disrupt an industry or sector. You are more likely to get closer to the answer to this question by getting to know the founders and initial founding team in charge of leading the business’s main functions.

Being in the right market helps, having a good idea helps, the macroeconomic situation helps too. However, if you bring in enough talented people with complementary areas of expertise, they'll know how to work through adversity, pivot if the idea isn’t the right one, and figure out how to make the business work. The success or failure of a startup is determined by the talent it is able to attract and retain.

Becoming a Talent Magnet

Building a team is always a challenge, especially if you want to attract only the best but have not created a recognized brand in the market. Amazon, Google and Facebook have thousands of candidates available every time they open a position. Who would want to join a startup that no one knows and hasn't even launched its product yet? The adventurers, the risk-takers, the crazy ones, the creators: the entrepreneurs.

A hiring process is always bi-directional. Startups initially do not have an internationally recognized brand to leverage during the selection process when they need to hire a wide breadth of talent. Hiring a talented person is a seed to facilitate the next talented hire. What soccer player wouldn't want to play alongside the Galactics of Real Madrid and share the field with Zidane, Iker Casillas, Raúl, Figo, Roberto Carlos? Florentino Pérez built this unrivaled team one by one, attracting the best talent available for each of the team's positions and expanding from there. Each new hire paved the way for the next, creating a positive spiral and a "halo" effect that was impossible to stop.

The selection process consists of getting to know the candidate but it also allows the candidate to get to know you, the rest of the team, and the company’s culture. It is essential to understand the “Why:” Why might this person be looking for a change? What things move the candidate? What makes his/her eyes sparkle with hope? If the answers to these questions align with the culture you’re trying to create, then 90 percent of the job is done. The other 10 percent is negotiating the salary, aligning their objectives with those of the company via stock options, and making sure that both sides enjoy spending time with each other on a more personal level.

Retaining the Best

We did it! We now have an amazing starting team. We brought together the best of the best in each of the key positions, now what?

People prefer to spend more time in companies/positions where they are constantly learning and are exposed to new challenges, feel valued, and are surrounded by colleagues who support them and help them overcome obstacles.

The first step to encourage someone to stay with a team is to understand their wants and needs. What motivates this person? Can the coach or team give them more of what motivates them? Can the organization help them continue to grow?

The coach is responsible for ensuring that the players have the best boots, the best equipment, and the best training center. In short, the coach is in charge of creating an environment where all elements have a reason for being, generating a multiplier effect on a player’s performance. A coach’s main challenge is undoubtedly to create and maintain a cohesive team with a common goal. The coach needs to be an ego juggler to be able to deal with all players’ egos and his own. On many occasions, it is also necessary to step aside and let each of the team's players do what they do best: observe the beauty of a perfectly executed dribble, a heel strike, or a spectacular overhead kick at the right moment.

A-Players bring A-Players: The most talented are not afraid to bring people who are better than them to the team. They are humble enough to learn from anyone in the organization and know how to delegate tasks when appropriate. B-Players bring C-Players. I could expand on this but, in short, a B-player has a harder time convincing an A-Player to come and play on his team due to skills, fear of being surpassed, ego, etc. The only real way to scale a high-performance team is to ensure that the initial pillars on which each of its areas are built are led by exceptional people and A-Players.

Aligning a Star-Filled Constellation

Once the Dream Team is assembled, it is essential that the coach aligns the interests of all players. Every player at the highest level in the world is used to shining wherever he goes. A-Players have always excelled at what they do and are usually admired by others. Everyone wants to shine and the challenge is to understand that when 11 stars shine at the same time and find resonance, they generate so much energy that it places a team light years ahead of any other where one or more stars try to shine with more intensity than the others.

Despite pressure from fans and the environment, in my opinion, a coach should never set a target based on the number of tournaments to win each year. Tournaments are the outcome. A leader has to focus on the inputs to increase the chance of achieving the expected output. Awards result from attracting the best talent, providing them with the best trainers, training them in areas that complement their skills, and supplying them with adequate boots and shirts. Above all, however, great victories come when coaches succeed at creating cultures of cooperation, in which teammates are able to put their personal goals aside and work together to achieve those of the team. At Draftea, we are trying to build this kind of environment and culture while revolutionizing the way fans connect with sports. If you are passionate about technology and sports, let’s get in touch. We will surely find a way to join forces and bring our passion for sports to the next level.

Photo by:   Miguel Gutiérrez-Barquín

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