At a startup dinner I had with a bunch of really smart software entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas during SXSW earlier this year, something really struck me. Of the 8 founders at the dinner, half of them had a design/ui/ux background. This got me to thinking: What would the ideal founding team at a web startup look like?
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Magical Web Startup Founding Team
#1. Developer. If a web startup has only one founder, it should be a brilliant developer. And by a developer, I mean a developer — someone who can produce, release and maintain working code. Not a CTO or “architect”. Not someone who thinks they can recruit developers or someone who knows someone who runs a development shop in Croatia. An actual developer.
#2. Designer / UI / UX person. If the startup has two founders, the other founder should be a brilliant designer-type. By this, I mean someone that can take a problem that humans have and come up with a software solution that humans want to use — repeatedly and delightedly. I think great design talent has always been useful in a software company — now, it’s become crucial.
#3. Inbound Marketer. If the startup has three founders, the third one should be an inbound marketer. An inbound marketer is someone who is good at pulling people in (vs. pushing a message out). I decidedly don’t mean someone that’s good at spending a marketing budget on advertising to try and find people that are interested. I mean someone that will create remarkable content that will attract traffic, users and customers.
#4. Sales Person. If there’s a fourth founder on the team (which I’m not a big fan of by the way), it might be useful to have a sales person. And, remember, startups don’t need a VP of Sales — they need actual sales.
The reason I put the designer above the inbound marketer is simple: If the designer is exceptional, half the marketing battle is already won. Ecstatic users do much of your marketing for you. Today, a great product with good marketing usually wins over a good product with great marketing. This makes me happy, because it is as the world should be.
And, if you have an exceptional product and exceptional marketing, you often don’t need sales. Of course, in certain kinds of busineses, sales is critical — but I’m talking about the ideal case here. In my ideal world, it’s nice to not to have sell. [Note: No disrespect to all the great sales people that work at HubSpot — I’m sure in your ideal world, you’d love for there to be a magical machine that produced working code and there was no need to deal with quirky programmers.]
Now one thing that might trouble many of you reading this is that I don’t include a “visionary” business person in the mix. There are a couple of reasons for this: First, it’s near impossible to know if a vision/idea is good one until after someone does something about it. Lots of really smart, competent people have mediocre ideas all the time. Second, no amount of great vision is going to obviate the need to manifest it. It comes back to creating a product humans like. Humans don’t care about other people’s visions.
Finally, it’s entirely possible (and quite desirable) to have some of these traits in a single individual. Some of my favorite combinations are developer/designer (what I call a devigner) and developer/marketer (which I call developer/marketer because I never came up with a more clever name for it).
So, what do you think? Take your current startup out of the picture for a second. If you were betting your life savings on a startup, what would you think the magical mix of founders should be? Would you reorder my list? Add someone? Take someone out?
How would you define the perfect webs startup founding team?