When you are first starting a company, the people you surround yourself with are just as important as your business plan, if not more. No founder can successfully scale a startup alone, but finding the right team of co-founders and company leadership in the early stages can be an uphill battle. At Techstars, we've seen countless startups with promise fall flat due to problems among the founding team or an entrepreneur's inability to secure a strong lineup of company leaders.
When putting together a founding team, it's important to get it right the first time. Doing this requires the CEO to understand the key qualities the team must embody to ensure long-term success. Not surprisingly, characters from some of today's most beloved TV shows provide a model for the traits a founding team needs to have.
Here are the top five qualities, and how they show up in TV dream teams that are kicking butt and taking names:
1. Shared Vision and Values
Game of Thrones is surely the most referenced TV show when it comes to drawing parallels to business. The Mother of Dragons and her entourage are the epitome of a team with shared vision. Just like Daenerys, Jorah, Tyrion and the queen's other supporters, a founding team should be motivated by the same things -- even if (especially if) the rest of the world isn't quite on board yet.
A founding team that is fully on the same page with the vision for where the company is going, how it is getting there, and why it is worth their effort, will make strides much more smoothly than teams that are stuck in frequent debate about the plan and values.
Sharing a unified vision is important, but to be primed for innovation, founding teams should also be diverse, comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs and cultures. The skill sets represented across the team should also be diversified. No startup needs three co-founders all with the same experience -- but rather, a combination of men and women with legal, engineering, business, financial and other key expertise.
The staple characters of The Walking Dead exemplify the importance of diversity in surviving a difficult environment. Rick Grimes has a strong will and is a born leader. Glenn (RIP) offered cunning and morality, while Michonne brings creativity and reliability, Maggie strategy and loyalty.
Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were nothing if not committed. While unlike the Breaking Bad duo, entrepreneurs must have their morals on the straight and narrow, there is something to learn from the fierce dedication Walt and Jesse brought to their 'business' dealings. Co-founders should be equally committed to each other, the startup vision and all work that must be done to meet outlined goals.
If you need a model for what great chemistry looks like in a problem-solving setting, just look to the kids of Stranger Things. Sure, Eleven has psychic powers, but the chemistry she shares with Mike, Lucas and Dustin is what really led them to fight off the demodogs and escape the Upside Down. Since you don't have psychic abilities on your bench, it's even more important to like the people you are working with day in and day out, especially in the cutthroat early days of startup life.
Finding partners that can also be friends will make the work much more enjoyable and sets a strong precedent for company culture. Co-founders may not always see eye-to-eye, but if they have chemistry, that positive energy will make it easier to overcome obstacles.
5. Respectful Leadership
Respect and empathy are becoming increasingly important in business, and should be key pillars of every company. Society is raising the bar for transparency, accountability and ethics among businesses and their leaders, and a founding team must demonstrate respectful leadership in order to gain traction in today's world.
The X-Files agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are role models for mutual respect. Even under immense pressure, and amidst some shared personal baggage, the two never disrespect or undermine each other. Every entrepreneur should demand this standard for himself/herself and the entire co-founding team.
There are dozens of things can derail a startup. But setting a high standard for the founding team, and ensuring the qualities above are met, can be key in avoiding conflicts or surprises that could become your startup's downfall.