CEOs, managers, owners, and entrepreneurs; let's do a thought experiment. I want you to imagine leaving for a week-long trip to an isolated destination. You have no internet access. Would your business survive the week without you?
If the answer is no, you're among the majority – but believe it or not, you don't have to be. There's another way to approach business: one which involves finding the right team of self-sufficient, capable individuals to help you grow and scale your company.
In a recent Success Story interview, I spoke to someone who's managed to achieve this many times over. Charlie Feng is the co-founder of Clearco, which you may recognize as one of the leading startups in Canada, and he's helped the company scale from just three initial founders to over 1000 employees.
Not only that, but Charlie specializes in building up teams into self-sustaining entities. It's an impressive feat, so I was excited to pick his brain on how it's done.
Let's take a closer look at how and when to find your dream team.
If you're a hands-on team manager or startup CEO, you may view the idea of redundancy as a setback rather than a goal. If the team no longer needs you in order to function – or even to excel – then you've done something wrong.
You're the captain of the ship, and without you, things will surely fall apart. Right?
Not necessarily. In fact, it's arguably critical that you end up hiring yourself out of a job in order to scale and grow your startup.
For example: imagine you've found the perfect product-market fit, and your startup is starting to take off. You've put together a great team of engineers, marketers, and salespeople, but there's one key area that's lacking – you're the only one with any expert knowledge in your specific industry.
If you're not able to step back and let go of some control, your startup will hit a ceiling. It's simply not scalable or sustainable for you to be the only one with all the answers – you need to find people who can help take your business to the next level.
This is a concept Charlie Feng knows inside out, having scaled many teams himself. You can find his interview here if you're interested in hearing the full story on his career and successes.
Before we get too much further, I want to familiarize you with the impressive work of Charlie Feng as co-founder of Clearco (formerly Clearbanc).
Clearco is one of the most successful startups to date. It's aimed at democratizing access to capital through the use of AI, a market the company managed to successfully corner.
In his role within this company, Charlie has managed to turn every single internal team into a high-functioning, cohesive unit. His team building know-how has assisted in building the company up into the powerhouse it is today.
I'm keen to share his advice with you all, so without further introduction, let's dive in.
Let's start with the basics. Who should you hire, and how do you go about finding them?
When building the foundations of a team, it's important to remember that the team's makeup will largely determine both the company's early success and its ability to scale.
Find people who complement you
While your goal is to eventually leave the team to their own devices, it's crucial to find people who will complement your skills and weaknesses in the early stages. Clashes between personalities can quickly derail progress, so it's important to find individuals who share your vision and are able to work productively together.
Charlie also raised the topic of team diversity, which is especially important in early-stage startups. This is why more emphasis is often placed on complementary personalities, as opposed to similar ones; you need people who can get onboard your mission, but who can also see things from different perspectives.
Don't disregard similarities
In his interview, Charlie made an interesting point about the difference between hiring people who are the same as you and people who complement you.
“There are two ways to hire. One is hiring people who complement you, and then there's hiring the people who are similar to you. They're not two separate concepts, but the same concept; it's important that to hire people who complement your skill set, but are actually similar to you from a worldview perspective."
What Charlie means by this is that, rather than choosing between complementary team members or similar team members, we should be aiming to hire those who exhibit both complementary personality traits and similar outlooks on the world.
Hire the people you'd want to work for
This is my favorite piece of advice Charlie gave in relation to team building, and I think you'll agree that it makes total sense – hire the people you would want to work for if roles were reversed.
Why? Think of it this way. Your end goal with this team is to build a totally self-sufficient, badass machine that can run entirely on its own. It needs to be able to scale, develop, hire new members, and produce results – all without you.
In that case, it makes sense to hire people who you would want to work for, because chances are they have the same goals and aspirations as you. They're also more likely to be invested in the company's success, since they'll see it as a reflection of their own work.
Imagine for a moment that the word diversity was never turned into corporate jargon. Forget the sugar-coated stock images of people from different walks of life coming together around a table. Instead, let's think about what it actually means.
Diversity is the inclusion of people who are different from you. It's the acknowledgement that everyone has something unique to offer, and it's the understanding that a team with different backgrounds, ideologies, and experiences will always be more successful than a team of clones.
The concept of diversity in team building extends far beyond the color of a person's skin or whether they attend church on Sundays. It encompasses a range of traits, including:
When building a team, it's important to remember that diversity should be one of your top priorities. This isn't only because it's the right thing to do, but also because it makes good business sense. A team with a variety of perspectives can come up with better solutions, communicate more effectively, and be more successful in the long run.
Building a self-sufficient team doesn't happen at the snap of a finger, and in the beginning stages of your startup, this isn't your goal. The first few people you bring on board should be able to help you get your business off the ground; they'll be your core team.
As you grow, you'll want to expand and fill in the gaps with other specialists. So when should you start building your dream team? I asked Charlie for his thoughts on this.
Focus on your first 10
I was relieved when Charlie didn't give a one-size-fits-all answer for when startups should begin scaling. After all, each startup is different and will have its own timeline.
He did, however, pose a highly useful idea that I think you'll find helpful: focus on your first 10 hires, and make them the best of the best.
"Look for those people who share the same conviction for the mission you're trying to go after. Over time, that's going to dilute."
It's almost a warning wrapped in a piece of advice: don't let the quality of your team slide as you add new members, because if the original solution isn't strong enough, it'll dilate into a weaker solution as more people are added.
To make sure those first hires are rock stars, you'll need to put in extra effort during the recruiting process. Here are a few tips:
If you put in the effort, you'll be able to find people who share your vision and are excited to help you achieve it.
When to begin scaling
To answer the original question in light of Charlie’s advice, you should ideally begin scaling when you’re satisfied that the foundations of your team are strong. This means that your team can confidently run itself in your absence and that you have the bandwidth to begin bringing on new members.
How will you know when the time is right? Here are a few success indicators to look for:
If you can check off all of these boxes, then it's probably time to start scaling. But be careful – if you're not 100% ready, it could do more harm than good.
When building up teams from square one, remember that you are weaving together a group of individuals with different skills, personalities and goals. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to happen overnight – but that's a sign of diversity and strength.
With the right attitude and a lot of hard work, you'll be able to find and assemble the perfect team for your startup. Not only that, but you'll find the ability and the freedom to step away from the day-to-day and work on your business' vision.
Building a startup is hard. Making yourself redundant is harder. It takes time, effort and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But as any entrepreneur will tell you, it's also one of the most rewarding experiences in life.
When it comes to team building, there's no one way to go about it. Simply get out there and find the best and brightest minds to help you turn your vision into a reality.
Thank you, Charlie, for your valuable insights on such a fascinating topic – you can hear the rest of his story here.