In early-stage startup projects, problems related to the team are some of the most common. In fact, one out of five failed startup founders reports that they had serious team problems – the most common type after lack of product-market fit and marketing problems.
Team problems are not the deadliest – out of the failed startup founders who mention that they had team problems, only 39% said that these problems were the reason for the failure of the project.
Nonetheless, even if team problems in early-stage startups don’t tend to be that deadly, they can still lead to a lot of friction, inefficiency, delayed growth, and missed opportunities.
Out of the common team problems (internal friction due to mismatch of values, lack of motivation, different availability, mismatched expectations), lack of experience, and more specifically – expertise, is by far the deadliest problem.
One of the biggest startup team mistakes you can make as a first-time founder is to try to tackle an ambitious problem with a team lacking the needed experience.
While in business media you often hear stories of young innovators, these stories are usually the exception rather than the rule. 60-year-old entrepreneurs are 3 times more likely to build a successful startup than 30-year-old entrepreneurs and for a good reason. A 60-year-old founder has more experience and a stronger professional network, which in essence gives them access to the expertise of other experienced people.
Here are the four fundamental expertises that you need to make sure your startup team has:
1. Domain Expertise
One of the most famous quotes from Stephen King’s non-fiction book “On Wiring” is “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
The same is true for startup founders. If you are not immersed in a field, you don’t have the tools to succeed as an innovator in it. If your team lacks domain knowledge, fix this first and foremost.
There are many reasons why this is true, most of which are obvious. The biggest one is that if you’re not immersed in the field, you would have a realistic idea of the pain points and unmet needs of this field. This would make finding product-market fit extremely difficult, as you will be likely to build a solution nobody needs.
2. Startup And Business Development Expertise
It’s a bad idea to try to reinvent the wheel. While the modern tech startup was something new in the 80s and 90s, nowadays we can learn from the experience of thousands of successful and unsuccessful founders.
There are well-established industry practices and rules of thumb that would increase your chances of success a great deal.
Access to such startup biz dev knowledge is the main reason why involving a mentor in your project is a great idea especially if you are a first-time founder. 70% of small business owners that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the survival rate of similar ventures who don’t receive mentoring.
3. Marketing and Sales Expertise
Most people dislike sales, yet selling well is crucial for startup success for obvious reasons – you need to convince your customers to buy your offering, but also all kinds of different stakeholders to get involved in your project.
While being successful at startup stales without previous experience is definitely possible, it’s much easier to succeed in it when someone in your early-stage team has some experience as well as an inclination for it.
While connected to sales, startup marketing is trickier because a lack of expertise in it could mislead you to invest considerable resources in activities with very bad ROI – something early-stage projects with limited resources cannot afford.
4. Technical Expertise
Last but not least, lack of technical expertise is also an obvious problem for high-tech startups. Complicated technical problems are very hard to overcome, and if you don’t have a great technical lead on your team you’ll be very likely to hit a roadblock you’ll be unable to overcome.
That said, if you are running a low-tech startup, then you could manage by outsourcing the technical side of your business (or relying on no-code solutions).
In conclusion, make sure that your early-stage startup team has:
Great domain knowledge and a good idea of the problem you need to solve
Good startup business development knowledge. If you don’t have that, find a mentor or experienced early-stage investor.
Marketing, sales, and technical expertise. There are two aspects of startups: building and selling. Makes sure you have both covered.