I have had the privilege of going to many different startup eco-systems all over that are in various different stages of their growth but it is an amazing feeling being in a community that feels like it is right on the cusp of going from under the radar to a thriving community. Enter Austin, Texas. With the immense growth of South by Southwest, an incredible amount of great business successes like Whole Foods, BazaarVoice and HomeAway, big companies that supply lots of professional jobs like Dell and Apple just announced to open a new office in Austin that will create 3600 jobs, and a local spirit of high energy and a lot of “weirdness” is an incredible infrastructure towards some great innovation.
On top of this, the University of Texas really seems to get it and continues to foster some great talent (Graduate programs ranked 8th in Engineering, 14th in Law, 17th in Business, 2nd in Education). One of the most remarkable things I have come across at UT is how Bob Metcalfe (a small timer who just invented some little thing called… the ethernet 🙂 ) has really disrupted their entrepreneurship curriculum . He has created what they call 1 Semester Startup which is taking the accelerator model and bringing it into the university. The continued progress of this eco-system is bound to make some large strides in the near future.
For Startup Weekend, this was actually the 3rd time we have had an event in Austin and from attendees were saying was an event that had a great impact that added layers on top of previous events. Our event was held at a great coworking space called HubAustin which hosted about 70 attendees (limited to the size of the space but the event sold out very quickly). Friday evening we had 40 people pitch and narrowed it down to a top 10 we formed teams around. The weekend went off great and even one of our ideas got TechCrunch coverage due to their funding!
… well this was the April Fools joke we played on the group which surprised the entire audience Sunday evening. The amount of energy, talent and overall Austin “weirdness” that came to this event taught me a lot about what is necessary to build a great founding team. Through my analysis of teams that failed and succeeded throughout the weekend, here are 5 qualities each great founding team has:
Qualities of great founding teams:
1. Understanding of working relationship
A lot of founding teams are created due to friendships that have been built outside of work. (i.e. because you have been best friends for so long). It seems perfect to do business with one another… nooooottt quite 🙂 Equal partnerships in business never work out well and someone needs to be elected to lead the team and vision. This will reduce the pain of awful decision making, uncertainty and focus. Great founding teams have an understanding of the importance of creating a working relationship that is in the best interest of the company and that will allow the group to execute.
2. Ability to communicate vision and ideas effectively
Throughout the Startup Weekend I saw many people trying to pitch their ideas but the ones that succeeded were the ones that were able to find a way to effective communicate what was in their heads with the people who they were working with. Whether it is through spoken word or visuals, this skill set is immensely crucial in the early stages of a founding team which allow for true innovation to occur.
3. Ability to not hear but listen
Along with communicating, listening may be even more important. In the brainstorming phases often people pitch many different ideas. A great founding team is one that creates an environment of optimism not fear by cutting down ideas before they even have time to flourish. When someone throws out an idea for improvement, before you react, try either asking another question to better understand the idea or build on top of the idea to make an even better solution. Dismissing ideas leads for a team that doesn’t accept creativity and innovation.
When you get a group of high energy people together who really vibe with one another, the amount of ideas seem to just fly. This is extremely powerful but ultimately could be a founding teams biggest weakness. New features, new ideas, bigger visions can always be discussed in hope to create the perfect product but where great founding teams really stand apart from others are when they are able to focus on what the core is. Every world changing idea started somewhere and great founding teams know how to stop talking and start doing.
5. Ability to recognize when to pivot
Some of the toughest challenges are being able to recognize where the major problems are in your business and being able to understand when to let go and let your customers guide you. The strongest founding teams don’t try and shove an idea down someone’s throat but they let their customers guide them in which direction the idea should evolve.
Austin is on the verge of really turning the corner and being able to foster their talent with the ability to create rock-star founding teams will really help push their community to the next level. I am excited to see what’s in store for the great people in Austin and hope they continue to build their eco-system in the right way.