The first stage of a startup, what I call the Building Product stage is management light. The team should be small. We have portfolio companies like del.icio.us and duck duck go where the Building Product stage was accomplished by one person, the founder of course. That is not typical.
What is typical is a team of five or less. The founder/CEO is usually the product manager. There is often a technical co-founder who leads the development team. And there are often several developers (two or three). There can be a designer unless the founder is capable of doing the design. That is about it.
There are quite a few of our portfolio companies that had a two person founding team. Both members of the team built the product. Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski of Codecademy are a good example. As are Daniel Ha and Jason Yan of Disqus. Both of these teams came out of Y Combinator. But two person teams are not limited to Y Combinator. Dennis and Naveen built Foursquare as a two person team. Greg Yardley and Jesse Rohland built Pinch which is now part of Flurry as a two person team. Billy and Yang built and launched Turntable.fm as a two person team. David Karp and Marco Arment built, launched, and ran Tumblr for well over a year as a two person team. I am sure there are other examples in our portfolio of two person founding teams.
Three person teams are also common. Etsy was built by Chris, Haim, and Rob. That is in many ways the classic founding team. Rob was CEO and product lead including all design. Chris and Haim were the dev team. They built and launched Etsy in about three months if I rememeber correctly.
Hopefully you get the point. Building product is not about having a large team to manage. It is about having a small team with the right people on it. You need product, design, and software engineering skills on the team. And you need to be focused, committed, and driven. Management at this point is all about small team dynamics; everyone on board, working together, and getting stuff done. Strong individual contributors are key in this stage. Management skills are not a requirement. In fact they may even be a hindrance.
Next week we will talk about the Building Usage stage where team building and management skills start becoming necessary.