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How To Build An Investable Startup Founding Team

How To Build An Investable Startup Founding Team

Every founding team which plans to grow aggressively needs to raise investment from venture capitalists. The funny thing is that I don’t think founders think the team is nearly as important as investor think it is!

So why do startup teams matter?

“Having the right team determines the path and outcome of a new venture more than any decision in the lifecycle of a company,”
“I am fond of quoting that about 70% of my investment decision of an early-stage company is the team. My rationale is simple: everything goes wrong and only great teams can respond to competitors, markets, funding environments, staff departures, PR disasters and the like.”
– Mark Suster, Upfront Ventures

Simply put, in the early days, the founding team is the startup. It’s mainly the team, not the ‘idea’ they are backing. Indeed, you no doubt have heard of pivoting, right? Well quite often what ~ seed stage investors back, may not end up being the end result.

Slack is a great example of this. Ben Horowitz (A16Z) talked recently about being an ‘accidental investor’ in slack. Slack  (now valued at $2.8 billion) came about after its founder failed to launch another idea.

Ben Horowitz, had two real options: Give Butterfield more money so that he could continue to build Glitch or get $6 million back from Butterfield and close down the business. But then Butterfield threw out a third option as well. His engineers had created a “little tool” internally to communicate with each other, and Butterfield believed he could get if off the ground with the $6 million in funding he had left.

Who do you need on the team?

A great founding team is just like Avengers. You have highly capable members per se, but how how much compatible founders are is the key.
There are a number of ‘characters’ which play a critical role in a startup. It is likely that a team will not cover all of the required bases, and certainly founders will play multiple character roles- founders should look to have strength in at least the key ones.

These are:

  • Visionary prima donna
  • Leader
  • Executor
  • Hacker
  • Sales superstar (rainmaker)
  • Product owner
  • Marketer
  • Veteran of industry
  • The numbers man

Key requirements for the founding team

There are a number of things founders need to agree amongst themselves when starting up, and certainly before they look to start raising money. The key requirements are:
  • Who is the CEO
  • Founder team size
  • Complimentary skill sets
  • Leaders and managers on board
  • History of working together
  • Shared goals and work-ethic
  • Trust
  • Shared vision for the company
  • Aligned on equity shares and associated prenups

Traits investors look for in founders

As described above, investors invest in teams, but knowing what a great one is no easy task! As they tend to do when analysing business models and industries, they rely on heuristics, flags if you will, both positive and negative to form an opinion if this is the team for them.

If founders are aware, they can fake certain traits and avoid obvious pit-falls, but fundamentally a leopard can’t change it’s spots, and neither can founders.

These are the key things investors look for when scrutinising founders:

  • Team cohesion
  • Value culture and team
  • Customer knowledge and insight
  • Deep industry knowledge and technical insight
  • Product focused
  • Listen
  • Constant progress and improvements
  • Focus
  • Constant learning
  • Friendly, positive and optimistic
  • Don’t lie
  • Communicative
  • Lean and mean
  • Problem solving machines


The founding teams define a startups ability to succeed and to what extent. Investors place tremendous importance on teams, and make investment decisions based on them. It therefore makes incredible sense for founders to think very long and hard whom they are metaphorically getting into bed with.

Attending co-founder dating to find your startup team fundamentally is illogical as you have no history of working together. When the pressure piles on, people’s characters have a habit of changing. Without having weathered through this in some shape or form before, it is highly likely the company will fracture and lead to a blow up.

In short, think about your founders as you would when proposing marriage. It’s more than likely you will spend more time with your founders than your husband/wife.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.


Alexander is the Founder of 50Folds. Previously, he was the Operating Partner at Jungle Ventures. He build stuff, mentor promising entrepreneurs and advise institutional investors on internet companies in Asia Pacific. He used to be an M&A banker in London.

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