March 13, 2013

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Founding Partners

How to Assemble a Winning Startup Team

Peri Kinder

March 13, 2013

So you’ve invented the most ingenious and lucrative product since bottled water. Now what do you do?

You don’t have any idea how to market the product, set up a business plan or manufacture your life-changing invention. Where do you find the people who can get your innovation off the ground? Will involving friends or family members doom your business before it’s even started? Once you bring in team members, what is the best way to divvy up shares in the fledgling business?

We turned to a seasoned entrepreneur, a venture capitalist and an experienced financial guru to tackle these thorny questions.

Take it Slow

As the founder of several companies, including Doba and, Jeremy Hanks has spent the last dozen years assembling winning startup teams. He’s now been through the building process enough times to know what works—and what doesn’t.

The first piece of advice from Hanks: Don’t rush into any partnership unless you’ve developed a long-term connection with that person. Instead of thinking about finding a co-founder, invest in relationships with like-minded people.

“Find yourself thinking, ‘I can’t do this by myself, and more importantly, I shouldn’t do this by myself,’” Hanks says. “Often people are driven to partnerships through frustration. Instead, invest in relationships [even though] it might take years. There are no shortcuts. The relationship has to come first.”

Hanks has recruited people he knew in high school, college, past jobs and business ventures to be involved with his startups. When he founded GearTrade, he worked solo for one year before contacting friends, eventually getting his college roommate involved.

“It was somewhat of an organic experience. It wasn’t planned,” he says. But that experience set the stage for future successful business opportunities Hanks created, and he followed the same pattern for finding energetic, focused and compatible people to work with.

Second, get off your chair and out of the office. Because it can take years to find the people you want to work with, get started as soon as possible and meet harmonious individuals. Get back into the mindset of college, where the associates you interacted with were all working toward the same goal. Meet as many people as you can and be sure you’re not out there selling your dream—you’re making friends.

Startup “dating” sites and events are very popular. But Hanks suggests that people be wary when getting involved with these “dating” experiences. Organizations like FounderDating bring together entrepreneurs offering a variety of skill sets in an online format, with the premise of helping you find co-founders. But Hanks says these activities should only be used to create connections. Rushing into a partnership with an engineer, finance director or marketer you don’t know is almost guaranteed to create problems in the future.

Startup “speed dating” weekends break participants up into teams that work out ideas for a few days with the expectation of building partnerships. Make sure you set a limit for how much time you are willing to spend away from your family and how much of a sacrifice you are willing to make in order to create these relationships.

“I think it’s impossible to create a startup team through speed ‘dating.’” he says. “You have to know the person for more than a couple of days. It’s like going on a first date and getting married the next day, and expecting to go through life trouble-free for the next 50 years.”

His next piece of advice: Don’t approach potential partners in “pitch mode” because it could easily backfire. “You’re so passionate about your idea and believe in it so strongly, and you’re so anxious to go into a sales mentality,” Hanks says. But people who have to be “sold” the position are usually casual acquaintances—and often end up jumping ship.

However, Hanks isn’t above selling his vision to his friends. He even convinced a close friend to uproot his family, leave a high-paying job, relocate to Utah and get involved with a project that wasn’t guaranteed to succeed. Like many entrepreneurs, Hanks isn’t wired to think about failure. He knew if his idea didn’t work, his friend’s career and family would have been thrown a major curveball. “But I don’t think that way,” he says. “I use friends or strong associates. I think that is a really good foundation to build on.”

Look for Adaptability

Fraser Bullock has vast experience working with different partners. Currently, he is the co-founder and managing director of Sorenson Capital, but he also served as the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Additionally, he was an original partner of Bain Capital and founded Alpine Consolidated, LLC.

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