I was enjoying dinner recently with an investor friend of mine and we got to talking about the importance of hunger when building a team. It seemed to make sense to both of us that you want to find people who are hungry – who really want to do something good. It seems only too logical that the more someone wants something, the harder they’re willing to work to make it happen.
Being smart, having skills and the right kind of experience, are the fundamentals, sure. They’re the price of admission. But beyond that – or maybe even more important than that – is hunger.
I had a few glasses of wine, so I was ready to start making contentious statements. I said: “If I were an investor, I would invest based on hunger alone. I think it is the single most important factor to consider when building a team.” I left it that – for the moment.
Not so fast. My friend’s comeback was: ”yes, hunger’s really important, but you have to balance it with egos. If egos get too big they get in the way.” Touché. Maybe not with just one person, but if you’re talking about a team, the clash of egos can be destructive to the point where you get bounced off the path to success.
So, in essence, we’re talking about aggregate hunger level compared to aggregate ego level.
So I got to thinking – couldn’t this be represented mathematically, as a code snippet or maybe a combination of the two? Something to represent the idea that when the cumulative sum of hunger is greater than the cumulative sum of egos, great things happen.
Here’s what it might look like.
h=hunger level of an individual
e=an individual’s ego
ps=probability for success:
if sum(h1…hn) > sum (e1…en)
#ps = promising; start focusing on building a great business
#ps = doubtful; start arguing about stupid shit
In a chart, maybe it would look something like an aggregate demand curve does in economics:
Yes, hunger is very important for startup and team success. But when you start putting 4, 5, 6 or 7 hungry people together, their cumulative egos can cause real problems and derail the likelihood for success. So when you’re building a team, consider this: aggregate hunger must be greater than aggregate ego.
A lot of people liken the ability to raise money as a strong indicator of great timing to succeed as a startup. I can see the thinking behind that logic. At one time it was really hard to raise startup capital because the landscape was just so competitive. If you did succeed in getting funding, people thought, “Hey, you guys must be legit” because investors had their pick of the litter, so choosing you must be a very good sign of things to come.
To a large extent, that mentality has carried over to today. The difference is that in today’s landscape, getting venture capital isn’t as difficult as it once was. Competing for investment capital is a little less competitive than it used to be because there’s more money going around today. But getting your hands on money from investors isn’t the only thing you need for a successful startup.
Successful startups depend on more than just money. I see the need for 3 basic elements to succeed, of which money is just one:
You might think of it as a three-legged stool:
The thing about three-legged stools is that one weak or missing leg and you’re going to end up flat on your back.
Traction is really important. In my mind, more important than money. To get traction you need to build something that people care about. The ability to get in front of people and get people to like your product – gaining traction – is critical. If nobody cares, where will your business be?
Getting traction means bringing in revenue. To me, revenues are what matter first and foremost to determine if your company will succeed. Without revenues, you just don’t have a viable business model.
Face it, the average person on the street is still making the same salary he or she’s always made (assuming they haven’t become unemployed). The pool of available money to be spent on your product or service hasn’t changed all that much. If anything, it’s gotten smaller with people scared about which direction the economy will take next.
Because of the limited (and mostly dormant) supply of money you can take in as revenues, it’s not an especially good time to get traction for your business. I’m not saying that some new exceptional companies won’t succeed. It’s just tougher out there to succeed based on revenues right now.
Besides traction, another factor that most people don’t consider is the availability of talent. The more money that goes to startups, the more the war heats up for strong talent. And there is a huge war for talent right now, with plenty of very good people going to startups that don’t yet have a proven business model.
People don’t consider this either when saying it’s a good time to start a business, but it should be a major factor in making a smart go or no-go decision. Talent wars drive up the cost and restrict the availability of talent. That’s going to have a very serious impact on any revenues you might generate from the business.
The investor capital or Money leg is what’s strong right now. But even if you have plenty of investor capital, it’s only a matter of time before your business will fail without adequate revenues. To grow revenues, you need traction and talent.
So if you asked me if now is a good time to start a company, I’d have to say no. Now is a good time to raise investor capital. But now is certainly NOT a great time to get traction or talent. Startup money without traction and talent won’t get you anywhere in the end. And if raising seed money is your end goal, you need a reality check.
So the next time somebody tells you it’s a great time to start a business, correct them.