As I said in my last post, taking the leap to join a startup is not an easy decision. But perhaps even more difficult is the decision around which startup you should join. While there has been a lot of hype around the laid back, sweatshirt-wearing, beer-drinking, ping pong-playing cultures of burgeoning companies, serious professionals should look past the superficial to assess the startup's potential for success. After all, if the startup is doomed for failure, you'll be out of a job in no time.
You may not be able to tell in advance if a startup is destined to be a multi-billion dollar company, but with some due diligence you can get a good sense for whether or not the startup has a shot. For instance, you can do research on the size of the market to determine the magnitude of the problem the startup is looking to solve (i.e the potential the business has to make money). You can also do your own research to determine whether or not the solution offered by the startup is one that customers will ultimately find valuable. But most importantly, you should examine the startup team as a whole and the management team in particular.
Why is the team so important? Put simply: No matter how good or bad a startup idea sounds, ultimately it will be the team behind the idea that leads the startup to succeed or not. And that's because when things inevitably go wrong with product development, competition, fundraising, staffing and/or the business model, a strong team will be more likely to tackle the challenges quickly and wisely. A strong team will adapt when the company needs to change direction, and they won't need to be motivated to produce great results -- they'll motivate themselves. To that end, it's crucial for you to determine whether or not the management team prioritizes the "who" of their startup just as much as (if not even more than) the "what" of their business.
If you've already received a job offer from a startup -- congratulations! But before accepting the position the question you need to ask is "Has the management team sought out other A-players like me?" As Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great" stated, great leaders...
start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline -- first the people, then the direction -- no matter how dire the circumstances.
And it's not just the startup team that you should evaluate prior to accepting the offer. You should also evaluate the management team in particular to determine if those individuals approach the "what" of the company through customer feedback. Ultimately, the success of the business will depend on its customers, and it is thus crucial that the management team develop products in concert with customer feedback. That means taking a scientific approach to gathering customer input, tweaking the product, then measuring success through the examination of hard facts and finally deciphering the meaning behind the data. The best management teams will focus on responding to customer needs and refuse to spend their precious resources on anything that doesn't add value to their customers. As serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank said, "In a startup, no business plan survives first contact with customers." Hence, it's imperative that the management team have a different type of approach in mind -- one that involves consistent customer feedback.
Do you work for a startup? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below on how you made the decision to take the leap.
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