Creating a startup is a pretty big deal, and it’s not for the weak of heart.
Among other things, you need to be resilient, determined, creative, flexible and hard-working. But most of all, you need to have a good eye for hiring the right talent, with the right type of personality, for the right role.
In the end, your team is what’s going to make or break your business. The people who you surround yourself with will help you keep up with changing tides, with new innovations, with the most up-to-date marketing strategies.
You can’t do it all by yourself.
Unless you’re Superman, in which case you can probably skip the rest of this post and go save some kittens from the burning comet headed right for earth.
On the off chance that you’re not superman and/or you’re not preoccupied with saving kittens from a deadly comet, please feel free continue reading to find out what are 4 most essential personality traits that every team member in a startup needs to succeed.
Personality Trait #1
Likeability Above All Else
It’s all too common that a startup is over eager to hire the best of the best, without really taking into account if they even like the person.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use survey, Americans spend 8.6 hours a day working, and 7.6 hours sleeping, which leaves 7.8 hours for free time. That means that, statistically, your co-workers are the people who you spend the most time with.
And with a startup, the amount of hours that you work every day often skyrockets.
Do you really want to be spending this amount of time with someone you don’t even like? Added to this, the likelihood that you’re probably going to have to shoot down their ideas, or they’re going to shoot down yours. That there’s going to be a lot of criticism, tense nerves and difficult conversations. That there may even be some arguments, or out and out fights.
This is the life of a startup.
But if you’re anything like me, the foundation of likability is extremely important in high stress situations.
Once I’m out of those situations I can usually bounce back to my previous feelings of the person. We have a quick conversation, apologize for tense conversations and get back to work – Leaving the situation behind and just focusing on the task at hand.
If I don’t like someone before an issue arises… Well, you might just not forget and forgive so easily. Instead, we start to dwell on every little thing the person does, eventually focusing more on what they’re doing wrong than on what we’re doing at all.
This is death to a startup.
If you have one person on your team that people don’t get along with, you can bet that eventually the focus will be less on the work and more on this employee.
So likeability is important.
Now, how do you gauge if the person is really likable? Of course, during the interview you will get a sense of their personality.
But this isn’t enough.
You have to remember that everyone is “on” in an interview, and you’re only seeing what they want you to see.
When you’re hiring, look carefully at the candidates resumé. Did they work at jobs where a lot of team work was required? Did they get promoted in these jobs? Did they work in any jobs that simply required good social skills and a high amount of likeability? When you’re calling references, do they sound happy to talk about the person?
If there are any red flags going up about how well these guys worked with others, then forget them. They may be great workers, have a fantastic amount of talent, but they’re not going to work well in a startup.
Remember: Attitude trumps aptitude every time.
Personality Trait #2
The Ambitious Welter Weight Boxer
We all know that the one personality trait that is vital to a startup’s success is ambition. Ambition is what fuels a startup from the get go.
But it helps if it’s more than just the founders that have it.
Having a team who is ambitious will drive them through the lows, the highs and everything in between. You want them invested. You want them aiming high. You want them to care and to have something to prove.
Mark Suster, VC of GRP, would call this type of person someone who “punches above their weight class”. The boxing analogy fits perfectly. You don’t want a welter weight who’s content to be the best in the Welter weight division: You want a welter boxer who wants to take on the heavy weights and win.
You want somebody who sees no fear.
Who loves the thrill of the fight, who is up to the challenge of their rivals and who wants to be the last known survivor.
OK, OK. I’m paraphrasing Eye of the Tiger a little bit here.
But you get the point.
You want some who thrives off of obstacles. Who dreams big and refuses to back down.
Personality Trait #3
People Who Take Reasonable Risks
I know what you’re thinking: Reasonable and risk are two words that rarely go in the same sentence, but let me explain to you what I mean.
Risk taking is a difficult trait to get right. There’s a certain measure of risk taking that is desirable in a team member, but it can easily go too far.
Psychologists believe that risk taking is a genetic trait that has been inherited to us from our years of fighting, hunting and mating. For us to survive, we had to take risks in all of these areas. We fought for territory. We hunted for food. We mated outside of our villages in order to survive.
But there’s a balance: Risking too much meant death, risking not enough meant death.
You need to find the right balance in your potential team members.
They need to want to risk enough so that they take the company to the next step (beyond simple “survival”) but you don’t want them to take uninformed and unwise risks either.
But here’s the good news: It’s not too hard to find out if someone has the balance right. These people will have interesting details on their resumés. Maybe they wrote a paper on a more obscure topic, or volunteered in a high-risk environment. Perhaps they ran an unusual campaign in their last job, or implemented new techniques into their workspace?
Their risks are reasonable. They’re clearly well thought out and they’ve seen a lot of success with them.
These aren’t the people who come declaring that they had a radical new idea that turned their last company around. These guys aren’t the ones who got lucky with one of their risks.
Instead, look for the guys whose risks are reasonable. Who show you that they’re willing to take a chance, if it seems like an intelligent thing to do.
They won’t sink your startup and you can rely on their out of the box ideas to be founded on research, data, analytics and a critical eye.
Personality Trait #4
The Constant Student
Everyone in a startup, from the founders to the interns, are constantly learning new skills.
It’s what you do to survive.
We need a graphic for this blog – Figure it out.
We should start holding webinars – Let’s do it.
We need to be at this tradeshow – Let’s go.
We need to pitch our idea to this investor – Let’s kill it.
You might not have ever done any of these things before, but you won’t shy away from them either. You know it has to be done.
And you also know that these situations are exactly what Google was made for.
Finding out if a potential team member has this type of personality trait is all about asking the right questions.
Put them in an imaginary scenario where you know that they don’t have the necessary experience or education to succeed straight away. You know that the scenario will take extra learning for them to succeed. If they try to talk their way around the scenario: That’s no good. They’re pretending they have experience or education that they don’t.
However, if they express that they would go and research how to get the job done and then complete it to the best of their abilities: You’ve got a winner.
You need to have people on your team that don’t shy away from admitting ignorance while also professing a willingness to learn when this situation arises.
And then possibly unlearning, and learning a new way.
Again and again.
Of course, there other personality traits that every team member in a startup needs, this list isn’t exhaustive, but they are essential.
Got anything other recommendations for personality traits that are absolutely essential to growing an effective team for a startup? Let us know in the comments!