One of the businesses with which I’m involved is in the venture capital space. We identify, evaluate, vet and fund startup companies in the animal health, agribusiness and human health verticals. As you might imagine, we see everything under the sun. Founders present some pretty unique ideas along with financial projections that are pretty concrete on one end of the scale, to total pie in the sky on the other; slide decks that range from extremely good to extremely poor; business plans that might be exquisite or often are ridiculous; and valuations that are mostly “are you kidding?” though there are a few that are quite reasonable.
We really dig into the details, ask a lot of questions and look at a lot of documents. We pay close attention to whether or not the founder has the right passion and temperament as well as what kind of a problem his or her idea solves. It’s a good sign if the founder has some skin in the game and a vision that goes beyond simply cashing out down the road. And then we get to one of the central Go vs. No-Go questions – is the founder the Lone Ranger or is there a strong team in place?
Believe me when I tell you that there are some amazingly brilliant entrepreneurs out there. These people are scary smart and have world-changing ideas . . . but many won’t get funded because they haven’t (or won’t) put together a world-class team. The risk is too great from an investor’s perspective to make a bet on a Lone Ranger. Growing a business to any scalable level requires some very talented human capital. And the founder that says, “Invest in me now and I’ll go out and hire the talent,” just doesn’t understand. As investors we want to know who is going to be on the team from the get-go. It’s important for us to know if the chemistry is right; if everyone is committed; if the necessary principal skillsets are covered, and if all members of the team are on the same page.
There’s an obvious parallel here between startups looking for funding and our own entrepreneurial endeavors. In fact, we should step back and take a hard look at our own organizations as though we are presenting to venture capitalists. And here’s the hardball question we must ask. If we are hit by the proverbial bus today will our team be able to carry on tomorrow? Will our company survive and thrive or will it die? I know many entrepreneurs who believe their businesses are too small to justify a world-class team. To manage the risks that are inherent in entrepreneurship I think we need to scale to a size where such a team is a must-have. But can we afford not to have such a team in place as we push to scale? Think about it this way. It’s kind of like walking on thin ice across a lake. We hope with every step that we can make it to the other side without falling in. And if the ice breaks and we fall through we’re dead without the team. On the other hand if the team is in place, it can pull us out of the water should we take the icy plunge.
Some of us may be Lone Rangers because we think we can do it better than anyone else. In other cases we may know we need to build a team but don’t know how to find the right people. And there may yet be other instances where we don’t believe we can afford to hire the team at the present time. My response to all of these reasons is a repeat of my previously posed question, “If I’m hit by the bus today, will my company survive and thrive tomorrow?” If the answer is no, then it’s probably time to get busy with developing and implementing a strategy to build a strong team as quickly as possible.
While the Lone Ranger was a beloved fictional character from a different era, it isn’t a concept well-suited for a growing company. Building a world-class team is a solid way to manage risk in today’s entrepreneurial environment.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.