Top 5 qualities the start-up CEO wants from team members


You have to be a certain sort of person to get on well in a start-up and there’s no doubt it isn’t a suitable career choice for everyone.  I thought a quick “top 5 qualities” may be useful for any of you out there that are wondering if this sort of adventure is for you.

My original list was much longer but I’ve whittled it down to the 5 that matter most to me – I realise that this is personal to me and many of you will have some of your own that you wish to add in the comments section.

Read on if you’ve been bitten by the start-up bug or are thinking you might jump in to the technology bubble that’s rapidly exploding right now.

1.       POSITIVITY No-one wants to listen to or work alongside a whinger or sniper.  Yeah – things generally aren’t even close to perfect in a start-up environment but get over it & get over yourself & you’ll  make a far better team member.

2.       HARD WORK No getting away from this one folks.  You cannot cover off everything you need to by working 9-5 for 5 days a week.  If that’s all you can give, stay well away from start-up land.

3.       COMMITMENT I want to know you’re gonna stick around long enough for me to recoup my investment in you – and there will be one.  The flip side to that is the minute you’re gone, you’re gone – don’t expect a leaving party & sad farewells in a start-up; no-one has time for that.

4.       ENTHUSIASM AND ENERGY Enthusiasm for what we’re all trying to achieve, hunger for success and energy which manifests itself as urgency in all that you do.  Don’t come sloping in to work at 9am telling me you are tired.  I don’t want to hear it.

5.       A SOLUTIONS FOCUSED OUTLOOK Don’t bring me problems.  We have millions of those already.  Push yourself a bit, work it out & bring me a solution.  I like that a lot better.

You’ll note nothing on the list has anything to do with your skills.  I guess they’re a given & a secondary consideration.

As always your comments are welcome – keep them coming & I look forward to reading them.



  1. Great blog, as usual. I can’t believe that corporates wouldn’t want these characteristics as well?There’s one thing that concerns me though. People can be positively motivated (wants good stuff to happen, focuses on it, makes it happen) or negatively motivated (doesn’t want bad stuff to happen, focuses on it, stops it happening). The focus on positivity both in startup-land and elsewhere tends to exclude the second group. But they can be very useful as troubleshooters, detail-oriented coders, sysadmins etc etc.There’s a case for saying that the recent worldwide financial crash was caused by the consistent exclusion of this second group of people.Of course, I have a vested interest in saying this. Because I am a negatively motivated person myself. 🙂


  2. I’m commenting on this as someone that’s worked for a couple of start-ups – and works for Mary now. I’d include “flexibility” in this too – yes, a beautifully written project plan is lovely, but sometimes there just isn’t the time or resources to colour-code everything. Sometimes you’ve got to get on with it and get your hands dirty. A chap I once worked for described everything as a journey without maps. We knew where we were starting from, we knew where we wanted to get to. Everything inbetween was to be arranged along the way.My other addition to Mary’s list would be the rather-long “Don’t expect people to spoonfeed you everything you need to know – find it out for yourself”And finally – know the answers to the questions before your start-up CEO asks them. And if you don’t know straightaway, find it out fast, and be better prepared next time.


  3. Hi Mary,I won’t repeat what others have said above although I agree. I’m interested to know whether there are any additional qualities you would expect to see from people in different roles.You obviously listed the generic set of qualities for all team members, but where for example would you see “challenge” – I’m thinking about this in the context of maybe challenging the business strategy in terms


  4. For some reason it posted before I finished….What I was saying was the challenge around business strategy in terms of new opportunities or direction…but maybe that comes into solutions focused.Do you have different qualities for different roles of am I stuck in large organisation mode ;)Carl


  5. Thanks for the comments everyone – I really enjoyed reading them. It’s so great when people comment on your blog.Martin – I see what you mean about being negatively motivated – it’s the “monitor evaluator” role in Belbin I believe. It won’t surprise you that the first time we ever tested the Learning Pool team when the company was 2 years old & there were about 30 of us we had one single monitor evaluator, two completer finishers & the rest were resource investigators, shapers & plants. We have more monitor evaluators & completer finishers today.Elaine – I like the journey without maps – it’s what we used to call “extreme navigation” and it’s a lot of fun.Carl – have you ever heard this expression that sums up job roles in tech startups – “If you can’t code & you can’t sell, get the f*** out of my way!” Yeah – they’re the only roles that exist in a start-up’s early days & it sometimes seems it would be simpler if you could keep it that way…


  6. I love how you haven’t mentioned “skill” in this post. What I’m finding in the new economy is that, with the rise of Google and Twitter and other fact-sharing tools, common knowledge is now much more common. Even in highly specialized fields, people with the right mixture of natural talent and attitude can outdo the experts. When I look at my work, I judge it by the amount of effort and original thinking that has went into it; if I can honestly say the amount of effort is high, it’s noticed and applauded by others and I know I’ve done a good job. Attitude and work ethic are everything. Give me someone hungry to learn and succeed over a PhD any day.


  7. Love it Lyra – I will admit to having sacked 2 members of MENSA in my working life so far (no common sense whatsoever – either of them) & I love the story about how VCs knock $50k off company valuations for every MBA the company has on board. Yep – success is all about hunger and attitude & like it or not, there’s no getting away from putting in the hard yards.


  8. So true Mary. Someone summed it up for me recently: “True experts don’t call themselves experts because they’re always getting better. They don’t stop growing and they’re always wanting to take it up to the next level.”


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