The secret to startup success: what the ideal team should look like and how to motivate it?
May 02

Without a cohesive team, it is unlikely that a startup will succeed. But what should the ideal startup team look like? What are the qualities that team members should have? How can they motivate each other? Lijana Valančienė, a mentor, business consultant and innovation expert of the Tech Hub pre-accelerator at the Innovation Agency, answers these and other questions.

– Which is more important for the success of a startup – the team or the idea/product?

The product is of course very important, but it is created by a team of people, so the solution/ product will depend on their knowledge, expertise, wisdom, insight, commitment and hard work. If the product is not suitable, it is the team that has failed to see the biggest expectation of customers, to understand their most important needs and to create the best solution to meet them. So a product is not born without a team. And good products and solutions are created and developed by good teams.

– What is the ideal startup team?

An early-stage startup team should ideally have at least two or three members (founders): one who will be responsible for the development of the product/solution, i.e. an expert in the field of activity or the technology where the product is being developed; and one who will be responsible for the development of the business (management, marketing, communication, customer relations, sales, finance, etc.). The synergy of the competences of the members is also important in a startup team. Studies show that the founders of ideal teams have 4-8 years of relevant business and leadership (business/management) experience, and that all founders of a startup work 40-50 hours per week. It should be noted that the leader plays a significant role in building and sustaining the team as the leader is the one who has the vision to inspire, motivate and lead the team towards its goals.

– What are the special qualities of a successful startup?

The most important special qualities for startups are diligence, perseverance and not being afraid to take risks and make mistakes. They need to move forward quickly, so the worst qualities are procrastination, stalling, inability to discuss rationally, agree on difficult issues and make decisions quickly.

I would also highlight other important qualities of team members that are valuable for startups at every stage: responsibility, sense of duty, ability to deal with difficulties and challenges, communication, support, dedication and self-motivation

– How to keep a startup team motivated? After all, they often fail and hear a lot of “no’s”?

Long-term team motivation is difficult to achieve through external motivators, so I would advise each team member to look for their own intrinsic motivators, i.e. their own intrinsic needs, the satisfaction of which would be the key to their intrinsic motivation.

The theory of need motivation developed by David McClelland can be mentioned here. In this theory, the author argues that needs are learned and that each person’s hierarchy of needs is different, so that the response to different motivators depends on the attitudes, approaches and values that they have, which are shaped by the cultural and social environment and the cultural traditions that prevail in society. On this basis, the author identifies three higher-level needs that determine individual behaviour: the need for achievement (success), the need for affiliation (togetherness) and the need for power (influence).

As we can see, motivation is not just a group activity, but a personal (individual) one. Therefore, in order for a team to stay motivated, it is important to know each member well; just as it is important for each member to know himself or herself well.

– How do you, as a mentor, manage to inspire and motivate startups?

Mentoring in the TechHub pre-accelerator, I have tried all sorts of approaches – from strict oversight and accountability of a startup to complete freedom and freedom from constraints. So, through time and practice, I have firmly established that the best motivation is faith and trust in a star-tup, even when it does not trust itself.
There are many ups and downs along the pre-acceleration path of a star-tup, so unconditional faith and support are essential on the “downs” and celebrating even the smallest victories on the “ups”.

– Startups are often set up by people who have a stable job. When do you know that you need to commit yourself full time to growing your startup?

One of the characteristics of an ideal team and the key to a startup’s success is dedication to the startup – full commitment and sufficient time allocation. The team must have at least one founder who can commit 40-50 hours a week to the development of the startup.

– What simple techniques can you offer to help motivate a team?

As I mentioned before, self-knowledge is important for long-term motivation, so I would advise startups to first take steps to get to know themselves and their team members. For example, you can take the free DiSC tests (personality, values, inclinations) or the Belbin test (functions/roles in a team). After any self-assessment tests, it is a good idea to discuss the results with your team members, to discuss how and in what ways the results can help or hinder relationships, teamwork and the startup in general.

– Our life now is full of uncertainties: the war in Ukraine, economic volatility. How to remain realistically positive and move forward against this backdrop?

A sense of purpose is the answer to everything. When a startup knows why it is doing what it is doing, why it is pursuing what it is pursuing, then even an activity of little significance or result can be very positive, motivating and encouraging for the person doing the activity, encouraging them to continue, even in the midst of uncertainty, and even in the event of failure, and perhaps even to strive to do even more. Having a sense of purpose allows us to use any challenge to help the team and the startup grow, improve and move forward. Having a sense of purpose even helps to ensure that the development of your business contributes to your happiness. And it is also important to know that it is the feeling of happiness that creates the feeling of success, not the other way around.