Surround yourself with like-minded people. Bring in as many different perspectives as you can. Fuel creativity by promoting tensions. It seems that every expert who weighs in on the composition of the perfect management team offers up a different recipe. We polled a number of entrepreneurial gurus and asked them to tell us who should be at your right hand when you’re about to launch a new enterprise.
A diverse mix, says Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert, PhD, SF ’12. She says the head of a startup needs to entertain a steady stream of different perspectives. If your management team is diverse, she believes, you’ll have a better chance of generating fresh ideas and solutions. “The strongest teams are those that represent multiple cultural and professional perspectives—technical, managerial, marketing. That way, all facets of your business are being addressed during the decision-making process.”
Jag Gill, SF ’13, founder and CEO of Sundar, a global apparel startup, notes that many investors value CEOs who are outside the industry in which the enterprise operates. Although she had advised clients in the world of apparel and had exposure to the industry, Gill herself had a background in finance before launching Sundar. “One thing that someone from outside the industry brings to the table is an impulse to ask why. They haven’t become comfortable with the status quo, so they don’t just accept things the way they’ve always been. They are always asking, ‘Why do we do things this way?’ That reality check is exactly what a business needs to compete and stay healthy.”
Look for compatibility
Serial entrepreneur Nadia Shalaby, PhD, SF ’10, CEO of ITE Fund, adds an important caveat. A homogeneous team is a stale team, she agrees, but nothing can sink a business as quickly as incompatibility among team members—especially among founders or senior executives. “No matter how valuable you think a particular teammate is in terms of his or her contribution to the enterprise, don’t keep that person on if they’re creating tension and preventing team cohesion. One of the foremost reasons that businesses fail is a bad relationship among the founders or other key company leaders.”
Shalaby points to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “They were a couple of PhD students at Stanford when they launched the business that would become Google. The two have maintained a strong, supportive relationship throughout their company’s supersonic growth. Today, Google is one of the top ten companies in the world.” She also points to Facebook as a lesson about compatible founders. “Mark Zuckerberg and his cofounder were rarely on the same page, so Zuckerberg bought him out, and he and the company thrived.”
Shalaby notes that a frequent impulse among CEOs is to excuse away serious incompatibility. Many cofounders and C-suite executives overlook early acrimony as a temporary stress attributable to growing pains, she says. “ ‘Everything will be fine when we raise the money,’ they think. They should think again and take a hard look at the relationship. Investors know to look for compatibility among founders when they are sizing up a business. Good chemistry can be tough to fake.”