Team player

What does the startup founder director want from team members?


Working in a small business is not for everyone.  The working environment is transparent to a degree that many people find uncomfortable (your colleagues and manager, maybe even your directors are likely to be aware of your every move – which is great if you’re performing).  New business is rarely turned away so the only way quality can be maintained and delivery deadlines met is by team members working longer hours; this happens a lot when your small business is growing.  Your founder directors, although appreciative of everyone’s efforts, are always looking for “more”.  Performance issues are likely to be addressed sooner rather than later and perhaps more bluntly than many people are used to or prepared for.  The runway between joining as a newbie and being deemed to “fit in” may be viewed as too short by most.  Also, the swift exit if your colleagues decide you aren’t going to work out is brutal.

Of course – there’s a lot of upside too.  If there wasn’t, no-one would bother putting themselves through startup discomfort & pain.  But that’s not the topic of today’s blog.  Today is about what I as a founder director expect from team members as a minimum.  Here’s my top 10:

1.       Commitment to our customers, to the business and to our common goals.  This covers everything from being on time for meetings, doing your prep, being reliable and a host of other stuff.  Real life recent commitment examples from our own small business are being in the office on a bank holiday because a project review must take place, giving up a Sunday to travel to a company event – even though family plans had already been made, changing plans and flying to see a customer the next day because they needed you to.

2.       Passion about our company, customers, products and mission – this has to be real, it can’t be fake or people can tell.  See my accompanying blog photo of Eddie Ryce from Learning Pool’s sales team if you don’t believe me (photo credits to Paul Clarke & Ruth Cassidy).

3.       Honesty – about where you are, what you’re doing, why something failed, what you think about something.

4.       Hard work and an eye on the prize – yeah – long hours sometimes but an outcomes focused approach where you can easily prioritise what’s important and make sure that’s done first.  Linked to this I expect you to travel in your own time and to make sure all your follow ups and admin are done without anyone having to check or nag you.

5.       Self-sufficiency.  Not everyone has this on Day 1 but everyone needs to strive towards this.  Spending time managing team members’ performance is an overhead I’d rather do without.  You should make it easy for your line manager to manage you.

6.       Self confidence but with it the ability to know when you need help and the confidence to ask for it.

7.       Self-awareness – required to be a good team player.  It should be obvious to you before it is to anyone else when you’re verging on asshole behaviour.

8.       Enjoyment of the here and now.  Everyone wants to and will move up – but try and enjoy what you’re doing to the full when you’re doing it.

9.       Responsiveness – if I’m trying to get hold of you out of hours it’ll be for a good reason.  If I can’t reach you despite having provided you with every device known to mankind (at your request usually) that’s annoying.  Please note – being available in this way isn’t for everyone.

10.   A desire to improve.  Everyone should have this although in truth, some need it more than others.  That’s life!

They’re my top 10.  I’m sure there are loads more.  Keep your comments coming.  I love to receive and read them and so does everyone else.

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.


10 reasons to work in someone else’s startup


If you’ve never worked in a startup business you don’t know what you’re missing.  It really is the most fun you could ever have at work – even when they don’t become the next Groupon (let’s face it – any of us that have been around for a while have all got drawers full of old share option certificates from the companies we believed to be “dead certs”).  However, if you’re not yet quite ready or equipped to start your own business, working in someone else’s startup can be a marvellous stopgap solution and one that brings all sorts of opportunity.  These are my top 10 reasons why:

1.       Whatever you do, your startup job will have more scope simply because there are fewer people in the company and everyone is required to work beyond their comfort zones – that adds more strings to your bow & improves your confidence;

2.       Your working day will be far more varied than if you worked in a bigger or more established company and there’s bags more opportunity to move sideways into something else if you find you fancy it;

3.       If you’re talented and hard working, you can move up fast & make yourself indispensable far easier than in a different sort of organisation; no-one cares about your age or gender or even experience – it’s what you can do today that matters;

4.       Startup teams are really special – the bond between team members is unusually strong (probably because we all have so much at stake & let’s face it – there’s usually nothing else – no customers, no product, no money – so the team is EVERYTHING) and it’s a unique experience; when I think back to the startups I’ve worked in the teams have all been pure gold (Learning Pool’s Team Lovely pictured, snapped at our May 2010 conference by the rather wonderful Paul Clarke);

5.       Visibility – you can have access to the CEO’s big picture vision if you want it (if you’re not interested in what that is, you probably shouldn’t be there);

6.       You can learn so much so fast at someone else’s expense & with no financial risk to yourself – I remember the dizzy learning curve of my first startup dalliance – but even more I remember the exhilaration;

7.       Potential long term risk-free financial upside in your share options – if you work in someone else’s startup & don’t have options ask them why;

8.       The environment is extremely challenging & it helps you find out stuff about yourself as you become more resilient;

9.       There’s a chance that this might just be THE ONE – the next Google or Amazon;

10.   It’s serious fun – those roller coaster highs sure are high & we celebrate every success (sometimes even a little too much); you never know what’s around the corner.

Sounds good so far – sounds like you might enjoy this.  If you’re going for it, it’s only fair for me to give you the other side of the coin – which I’m going to call:

5 team member behaviours that really p*** the startup CEO off – and in my book they are:

1.       Whining – either to me or your colleagues about (delete as necessary) long working hours/not enough time to get stuff done properly/the spec is too loose/the working environment is too transparent/my salary is too low/the goalposts keep moving/etc);

2.       Not being customer focused enough – unforgivable in a startup;

3.       Wasting money – booking travel late, forgetting to cancel subscriptions, not parking in the cheapest car park at the airport, not asking for a discount on absolutely everything we buy as a matter of course, nor getting the most out of every minute of the day;

4.       Not thinking about stuff – inexcusable & I don’t want to hear your excuses;

5.       Not being a team player – peddling your own agenda, bitching about a colleague, not carrying your fair share – unacceptable – we’re all in this together & see above – the team is everything.  If you don’t believe this you need to get out & let the rest of us get on.

As always – I hope you enjoyed this blog & I look forward to your comments or questions – some of you will no doubt have different views & stories from your own start-ups which the rest of us hope you will share.