When Is Team > Product?

team-learningI had a little discussion/debate on Twitter just now about team formation.  The original poster said that teams now can be all remote and that the tools for maintaining a remote team are at the point where you don’t need to be full-time co-located.

I totally agree.  Working at Fidelity, I spent 15 years of almost never being in the same location as my team.  I was in either BOS or NH and the crew was in BOS, RI, TX, NC, IRE, IND, CHN.  We’ve been used to this for a long time, and in that respect, bigcos have been pioneers way before startups.

Because the team was remote, very often your ‘team’ for each project was assembled on the fly and consistency over time was irrelevant.  Each project was like a new startup where we would build something over the course of 9 -24 months.  During that creation phase, assembling the team for the work and having them come in and out was critical.  They were like ‘pivots’ on the path.  Sometimes this was a tool choice, or changes in functionality for the roadmap, or even realization that we needed to reprioritize based on customer feedback.  During this time, team has to be flexible.  Team is the product.  As the product changes, so must the team.

This would extend to a grand pivot, where a startup might give up on something and move in another direction, necessitating layoffs and new skillsets joining the team.  You figure this would happen at the 18-24 month phase.

So I would say that anything less than 24 months of a company, ‘Team’ is whatever is best for the product, which is what is best for the customer.  Given that drive, does your past history with the team really matter?  With everything so new, are there really that many synergies that can be realized?  How many co-founder arguments are spurred by inability to agree on strategy and how to adapt to the customer?  When does ‘Team’ become more than all about the Product?

Given above, I would postulate that ‘team’ isn’t all that important for the first 24 months, until you prove that your product is right and that you have a business.  I bet that in the vast majority of cases, a few core visionaries just have roles that need to be filled.  Some are specific to one individual.  Sometimes one individual covers multiple.  Sometimes it’s not a full position, so hiring a part timer that is experienced in that area is actually BETTER than having your full-time co-founder fill a role that they aren’t qualified for.  Things like marketing, sales, accounting, finance, legal, project mgmt, scrum master.  If this is true, then why can’t a few roles that are core (idea, plan, strategy) just HIRE all the others and form the ‘Team’ as needed?  Doesn’t this work for the studio model?

After you have a business, things change.  Culture, vision, values all start to become embroiled with the product, and so ‘Team’ is more than the product.  Synergies make sense because the churn of what you are actually building, has slowed down.  There is purpose.

If you are even with me a little up to this point, then don’t you HAVE to challenge the VC notion that team is everything for an early stage company?  Team is just bodies and qualifications filling a role as we project we need them on an FTE basis.  This is the business model and it is WAY more important than the team implementing it.

Maybe I am wrong on a few points here, but I hope it challenges you to think more about this notion that investors are putting their money into a “Team” first.  I would tell them to look at the business model, the roles and time requirements needed to implement the plan, the bodies that are filling those roles and THEN decide if it looks like this thing could come to fruition.

About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls, husband to an amazing woman, and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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