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BAM startup team essentials

Monday, July 11, 2016


“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford


Well known Italian entrepreneur, Ernesto Sirolli, stated in a TED Talk that nothing is ever built by just one person. God has never created anyone who can “…make it, sell it, and keep track of the money.” His point is that it takes a team!

I try to make a habit of looking for models in real life and this was illustrated recently when staying with my wife in the hospital while she was recovering from a hip replacement surgery. People came in and out of the room – each with their unique role and purpose.

I expected the primary surgeon, and a nurse or two; but the team caring for my wife included an RN, an LPN, a Physicians’ Assistant, a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, a case manager, a clinical supervisor, housekeeping, two food service people, a chaplain … and I then lost count. Each regularly rotated in and out of the room; each with a job to do – all focused on the well-being of the patient – my dear wife.

The experience made me reflect on how a business develops from a problem to be solved or a customer to be served. Lean startup gurus Marc Nager, Clint Nelson, and Franck Nouyrigat suggest that while ideas are important, TEAM is essential.1 So what does that mean for Business as Mission (BAM) startups or for businesses attempting to scale?

What does a team look like?

A growing body of research supports the idea that investors prefer to invest in teams. History reminds us that even the “greats” such as ark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Phil Knight did not accomplish greatness alone.

A team provides the diverse capabilities and social networks important to critical customers, resources and talent, and eventual buyers for the company. The relevant components of any discussion on teams are much more complex than what one simple blog can explore. But for starters let’s look at who should be on the BAM startup team.

Team builders face many difficult questions such as: should I have a highly diverse team very different from me, or a team that is more like me in values and skills? Should I bring on people I know so that I start with high levels of trust?

9 guidelines for a BAM startup team

No founding team is perfect, but recent literature2 suggests some general guidelines:

1. Common vision: The lead entrepreneur and the team must share the same vision for the venture.

2. Common passion: Team members must be passionate about the business concept and work as hard as the lead entrepreneur to help make it happen.

3. Industry experience: At least one of the team members must have experience in the industry in which the venture is being launched.

4. Concept testing and contacts: There must be significant research and testing of the concept and then solid industry contacts.

5. Access to capital: Research and consulting help must surface appropriate sources of capital, backed up by a good credit rating for the team members.

6. Functional expertise: The team’s expertise must at least cover key functional areas such as operations, management, finance, marketing, product understanding.

7. Long haul fortitude: The team must have the time to spend on the demands of the startup and be able to endure the financial constraints of a typical startup.

I would also add these two in light of the additional demands on a BAM startup:

8. Culture and language: Many of the team members must have understanding and appreciation of the culture and language of the host nation.

9. Missional focus: All team members must understand, support and promote the missional component of an integrated enterprise.

As I review the various projects I have observed over the years, I think that many BAM endeavors lack one or more of these. I wonder whether the lack of one or more of these will result in certain failure. I wonder why most businesses do not have all nine of these items and what will it take to improve the startup preparation for BAM teams.

1 Nager, Marc; Nelson, Clint; and Nouyrigat, Franck. Startup Weekend. 2012. Page 126.

2 Allen, Kathleen R.  Launching New Ventures – An Entrepreneurial Approach. Cengage Learning, Boston: 2016. Page 176.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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