This article is about our experience and observations in ways to build a startup team. We’re not talking about founders directly, but the immediate period following a company formation when the decision to build a startup team and grow has been agreed.
Wesley Clover and Alacrity build startup technology companies, and it is through our global experience of over 150 companies that we have drawn our conclusions.
The Startup Triangle
Previously we had adopted a startup triangle approach which covered three key areas. Business Lead (and sales experience), Software Engineer, and finally, Aesthetic Marketing (design, UX, UI). Together these three roles made up the startup triangle, the foundation of every successful team. But it is still a founding team. In this article, we’re looking at taking this, identifying critical roles and learning ways to grow a startup team that is effective and efficient.
Many of our founding teams were struggling to find direction and accurately roadmap and develop their products efficiently without assistance. It was in this specific area that we identified the need for a fourth person. Not necessarily a founder, but an essential first hire, or a replacement for another founding role.
Build a Startup Team Using a Startup Square
When you begin to build a startup team, two or three founders are a great place to start. But where do you make your first hire as a startup?
We have now identified that a successful team will have a healthy four-person basis. We affectionately refer to these roles as the 4 H’s.
- Hustler – The business lead who makes the sales
- Hacker – The principle developer who builds the product
- Hipster – The person concerned with user experience and design
- Handler – The person managing time and road mapping features
The Handler or ‘Product Developer’ is our recent addition, and we’ll look into this one and each of these roles in more detail.
The Startup Team Hustler
The Managing Director or the Chief Executive is typically the Hustler. This person has the passion, the vision and the drive to understand the goals and objectives in the company. They are the visionary who sees the direction of the company and have the ability to unite and inspire the team.
Their job is mainly customer-facing, being able to convince people of the solution and the requirement as well as having excellent interpersonal, presentation and communication skills. The ability to listen to the customer is crucial here and being able to report this back to the team is essential in creating a product that will be purchased.
The Hustler is always looking at ways to grow the business through exposure or sales. They are most keen to pivot depending on the circumstances and have their finger on the pulse through consumer feedback. This insight often needs to be measured through the rest of the team as a big pivot within a small company can also be disastrous and ill-timed.
“For your startup to succeed, you need someone who can pinpoint problems and articulate solutions. Every company encounters roadblocks, but to keep your dream intact, you need someone with a way with words, someone who can ground your mission in a path to success. “
Kalman Victor, Research Connection CPO and co-founder
The Startup Team Hacker
When you build a startup, you need someone who lives and breathes the product. This is the Hacker.
From the start, the Hacker should be able to conceptualise the product. What features should customers expect and why they’re needed. If you’re building a tech startup, then the Hacker will be a fantastic programmer, able to identify what coding language is best for the longevity of the company.
The Hacker should be a considerable problem-solver and revel in ways to work around problems. They will always be looking at different, more efficient ways to develop the product and improve its value to the client.
Without a product, there is no company. At the early stages to build a startup, it is the Hacker who will receive the most significant pressure. Getting a minimal viable product (MVP) in front of customers quickly is vital to the company’s success.
Ultimately, product quality relies on the Hacker themselves and their dedication and professionalism to the build.
“There is no greater feeling in business than building a product which profoundly impacts people’s lives.”
Elliot Bisnow, Summit Series CEO and founder
The Startup Team Hipster
The Hipster within your team will be focused on the many aspects of design. The Hipster will ensure that the product delivers the best customer experience (CX) and uses the best user interface (UI). They will use their skills and best practices in digital marketing, brand identity and user experience, to ensure the product is always useable and beautiful.
Early on in the lifecycle of a company, the Hipster will be building the website, creating the brand identity as well as creating digital content such as articles and social media posts.
The Hipster will be able to create concepts and wireframes of what the product could look like. They will work with the Hustler to understand what the client is requesting and then interpret these with the Hacker to visualise them.
Presentations to clients, investors and Board members will be completed by the Hipster in early days. They will ensure the language also speaks to the right customers by building personas for target customers. As the company grows, this role may change into a VP Marketing or Brand Ambassador.
The Startup Team Handler
If you do a web search for the essential elements in a founding team, you will likely be answered by the three roles above. The Hustler, Hacker and Hipster. But as we mentioned at the beginning, we found that this arrangement missed structure in the roadmap and development efficiency.
The Handler looks after Product Management, and they’re typically involved in strategy, execution and adaptation. The strategy will determine what features to build, at what time and at what cost. The Handler will follow user reactions based on UI / UX feedback and work alongside the Hipster and the Hacker to fix these quickly and efficiently.
The Handler will be responsible for communicating the vision of the company and guide product development around it. A market strategy will be formulated around the vision, and product development will only be determined based on the necessity related to the vision. Always with the vision in mind, the product development will bring new product features, designs and strategy, all formulated around timetables, roadmap, pricing and specifications to ensure their validity to the vision.
Having a solid founding or core team around the Hacker, Hipster, Hustler format has been reasonably successful. Still, the bumps along the road need more focus that greatly benefit from a Handler. The sometimes confusing direction, the indecision with features and roadmap have led us to realise the need for critical Product Development. As much emphasis and focus need to be applied to Product Development as it does to other roles. This will ensure a stronger future, vivid focus on the vision for the company and clarity in the journey to get there.