One of the things I tend to obsess about these days is startups that have little or even no real lifespan. Almost every day I uncover another one, some even with significant funding. In greater Los Angeles, now being called Silicon Beach, this problem seems to be more prevalent than in most areas. So many people make their goals to just b a startup, get it started and look for funding, without much thought about multi-year growth and sustainability, i.e. Scalability.
A common area of neglect in this early stage is people – Scalable People. Startup founders tend to add people that are close to them – friends, coworkers, spouses, family, neighbors, roommates, similar age, etc. These folks are very accessible and trustworthy, not much interviewing required, and often will start working with little or no compensation. It’s good to have some of these. The biggest downside is that eventually you will have to extract or diminish the roles of most (not all) of these people.
I once had an early employee at a startup I took over who was sales, marketing, receptionist and payroll. Early on we were lucky to have her doing all those things, and she received great stock options for being an early employee. But as we grew there was no doubt that we needed to replace her in most areas with a professional team that could scale with the job. Every change we made pissed her off and she fought for her position, which was counter-productive to our growth. She eventually left with some bitterness, but that went away once we went public and she could pay off her mortgage entirely.
You also have to mix it up as early as possible with real professionals that can scale when the company grows- people who “think differently”, have different experiences, drive initiative that none of you have even thought of, and want the company to be much bigger. These days a popular add in Los Angeles is someone from Silicon Valley; it adds a realness to the group and gets investors excited.
I’ve been on all sides of this situation – I’ve been the founder trying to attract the best people, and just as often I’ve come in as the “suit” to a small group of founders and early employees. It’s more work and trickier to splice the 2 groups together than to just use your inner circle, but it’s the only way to grow now and later. Please contact me if you want to discuss your startup. @tomnora