These are the people who make startups happen:
It might take a few people to get an idea off the ground, but it’s usually only one who has ‘the vision’. An ability to dream, even dream big, to see things differently, to see ahead and understand how this dream can make changes in the future.
Somebody needs to be the motivating force behind the team, the person who perhaps is the one to pull together the team, who keeps them going when things get tough. He is not only a leader in the motivational sense, but is the one who steers through various options and obstacles.
I had thought here to say “technician” but that sounds a bit too cold. The Mechanic understands the nuts-and-bolts of the product, and perhaps how all the aspects of the business fit and work together. She brings programming skills into software businesses, mechanical or electrical engineering into the hardware stuff, or community knowledge into social startups.
The gift for condensing the story into a few lines and being able to tell the same story at great length and in detail. She translates the vision into something saleable and relevant in the short term. (Over here I was talking about a different kind of story telling.)
Let’s add two more to the roster. While I think that they are important roles to be played in getting a startup off the ground, I don’t think that they are as crucial when you are sketching out your idea, but sooner or later they will appear.
The Bean Counter
Although it may not seem like it sometimes, your startup is a business. The Bean Counter understands how money will be coming in, and how it gets spent. The more advanced Bean Counters understand things like business models, cash flows, and cap tables.
Two geeks with laptops pounding out code in a small, dark apartment isn’t a startup, it’s two geeks with laptops pounding out code in a small, dark apartment. So much of a startup’s development is social. If you plan to get users – or investors – you need to be able to talk to them. The Shmoozer knows not only how to get the message across (the message having been defined by the Story-Teller), but when and how to tell it, and also when not to tell it. Like it or not, users – and investors (mostly, anyways) – are people.
I have purposely not divided the team into operational roles (CEO, VP marketing, VP R&D, etc), those are skills sets, or even worse – labels, that can be distributed among the founders, or hired to fill in the gaps in the founding team. Look at the list more as the characteristics that a founding team needs.
Can a person have more than one of these characteristics? Of course! You might even be that very rare and special person with all of them rolled into one, but there are very few people like that (and I think that VCs should stop looking at founding CEOs through this prism – some skills are inherent, the rest can be taught).
And what if more than one person can fill the same role? Here you might get into trouble. Obviously having two Drivers, even if they initially agree on the route the company is going to take, will eventually lead to a collision. Two Visionaries? If they both manage to have the same vision then I want to know what they’re taking. The Mechanic, Story-Teller, Bean Counter and Shmoozer can haunt more than one body, but people will tend to be pulled to their pre-existing tendencies (e.g. Harry and Sally are both Mechanics and Bean Counters, but eventually Sally spends more time counting the beans and Harry ends up spending them). The Shmoozer and the Story-Teller are often the same person, but not always.
Now take a look at your startup. Who is the Bean Counter? Who is the Visionary? Who are you?