You Only Get One Shot To Build The Right Startup Team

by Stirling Cox


No matter how innovative or sound your idea is, getting a startup off the ground is challenging.


And without the right team in place, it can be next to impossible. Your core team is absolutely critical to your success, so you must be incredibly mindful of how these key hires will affect the future of your company.


startup team building


Ideally, your founding teammates will have complementary strengths and weaknesses. While the specific skills necessary to succeed in a position at a startup vary by industry, certain qualities are often much more beneficial on a startup team than others, such as:


1. An Appropriate Attitude

In its early stages, a startup is filled with twists, turns, and setbacks. If your team members lack the right attitude, you’ll find them jumping ship at the first sign of resistance. Worse, they could damage morale within the company. A good attitude cannot be taught, so look for candidates who demonstrate self-confidence, positivity, and perseverance. These traits can influence how people make decisions and react during a crisis.


2. Raw IQ and EQ

A fancy degree, an executive title, or big brand experience looks impressive, but none of those things necessarily translate into startup success like they might in the corporate structure. Rather than picking candidates with overflowing résumés, opt for someone with both IQ and EQ. People with emotional intelligence are often more successful, generate higher revenue, and are less likely to abandon ship.


3. Professional Direction

This may be one of the most important traits in a startup candidate. Always hire people who know where they want to go professionally. They’ll see each opportunity as a chance to advance their careers, not simply as a way to make some money. If you’re able to help them in their pursuits, they’ll put every ounce of themselves toward doing their very best. You can’t buy that kind of commitment, and it can lead to a winning combination.


4. Learning Agility

Startups are notorious for changing direction and growing at breakneck speed, especially the most successful ones. Employees must be able to pick up concepts quickly to keep pace with the company’s growth. Otherwise, they’ll be overtaken by it. Trying to determine whether a candidate is an agile learner can be difficult, but a good indication is a history of reaching beyond current responsibilities and succeeding.


5. Humility

Often, top performers can become overconfident and forget they need to help others to become successful. This kind of mindset can impair both their work and that of the entire team. Look for candidates who willingly sacrifice their own self-interests in the short run for the betterment of the group.


6. Applicable Experience

In some cases, you’ll need to bring specific skills into your organization, so a candidate’s background may take precedence over all other desired traits. Your chief legal counsel, for example, should have legal experience – and a law degree, of course. On the other hand, with your tech team, you’ll need people who can write code.



Without the deep pockets of a large corporation, it pays to be that much more selective when choosing talent. Every person needs to wear more than one hat and must have a measurable impact on your company. At the end of the day, your innovative idea is only as good as the people who bring it to market, so make sure that each member of your startup team has the attitude, aptitude, and agility to do his or her job – and do it well – or all your hard work won’t bring the returns you deserve.



Stirling CoxStirling Cox is the managing director of AlphaSights USA, a company that connects today’s business leaders with the insight and expertise they need to prosper. The company assists a global client base, including private equity firms, asset managers, strategy consultancies and corporate executives, in making more informed decisions.



Photo Credits

Jared eberhardt | Courtesy of Stirling Cox