Your Three-Step Ladder to a Successful Tech Startup Team
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If you want to build a startup, you’re crazy. Not because succeeding is impossible but because it might take years. Years of dedicated work, failing, starting over, and failing again only to see a tiny glimpse of success.
You may also like: Why Is AWS Best for Your Tech Startup?
Yet, even though many startups fail, most successful tech companies have, at some point, been a startup. So what’s the difference between startups that succeed and those that fail?
I happen to work with Lou Dutko, a frequent mentor at startup accelerators in Europe (e.g. Metro and leAD), and CTO at Lemberg Solutions. He’s got an amazing sense of humor and quite a bit of experience working with startups in their initial stages of development.
Lou believes that people are the key to startup success.
"People who believe in your idea will help it get through. First as your team, and then as your customers. But the team always comes first. "
— Lou Dutko, CTO at Lemberg Solutions
Wise words, but you can hardly apply them as a manual. So I asked Lou to elaborate, and together we drew up a list of three first steps to help you build a tech startup team.
Step 1: Find a Chief Technology Officer and a Project Manager
If you come from a background in tech and want to be a chief technology officer (CTO), congrats — you’ve nailed the first part.
If you don’t, that’s fine. There are many successful companies, whose founders don’t come from a background in engineering. Think Pandora Radio, Tinder, Apple — their founders didn’t have STEM degrees, they had ideas and tech advisers.
That’s who CTOs are: part managers, part tech advisors. They should be someone you trust, and whose honest advice and opinion aim to better the product. Some of their other tasks include:
- Choosing the technology stack.
- Establishing the product development course.
- Maintaining knowledge about system architecture.
- Interviewing engineers.
- Auditing their work.
CTOs are crucial, and choosing the wrong person will cost you in the future. Go for someone with relevant experience, who is as excited about your idea as you are, and you should be alright. Read: find a genuine supporter with the tech skills you need.
Alternative: hire a CTO as a service. It’s relatively new…Uhm, service, which seems to be getting traction.
Basically, another company offers you a CTO — either their own or a highly experienced manager/engineer — to help you set off. It’s not an ideal long-term solution but should do until you find someone in-house.
Your next hire should be a project manager (PM).
A PM is someone whom you trust to oversee product development and communicate with engineers on your behalf. Great project managers understand the product and your expectations — often better than you do — which makes them an essential part of your team.
Try to get a PM in-house, since you’ll want to have access to them at any time. But the same goes here as with a CTO: if you cannot find the person you need, try hiring a dedicated PM from another company. This should work short-term, especially if your budget is tight.
Step 2: Outline Project Documentation and Timeline
Having found a project manager and a CTO, you can move on to planning out your product, a.k.a. outlining project documentation.
Project documentation is a set of requirements, user stories, acceptance criteria, and other materials that describe every single element of your product. Well-written project documentation leaves no space for interpretation. This means than any new person coming to your team will know exactly what the product is and what is expected of them.
This step is crucial for startups with unreliable or sparse funding. If you ever need to put your company on hold, well-written documentation will make renewing your development processes clear and easy.
To outline project documentation, you might want to hire an experienced business analyst (BA). They might run multiple discussions with you and your CTO — or initialize a discovery workshop — to determine your vision and expectations for the product.
However, startups don’t need a BA at all times. You will only need their services to outline the initial documentation — and your project manager can handle the rest. Meaning, it’s alright to hire a freelancer or a dedicated business analyst.
Among other things, project documentation will help you build a project development timeline. A timeline will help you prioritize different stages of development (decide what features will be developed first, etc.)
What’s more important, a timeline will help you visualize how long different stages of development should take. This, in turn, will make your communication with potential investors clearer, since you will not only have your expectations for the product but also know exactly when your first proof of concept, MVP, and prototype should be done.
Step 3: Continue Building Your Core Team
At this point, you should have project documentation as a blueprint for your future product, a CTO to make major tech decisions, and a PM to ensure that your team knows what to do.
It’s time to start getting engineers.
Your product will define the people you need to hire:
- A mobile app might need a UI/UX designer, a backend engineer and a team of mobile engineers (e.g. iOS and Android).
- An e-commerce platform might need a UI/UX designer, a backend engineer, and a front-end engineer.
- A wearable IoT device might need a product designer, a backend engineer, a hardware engineer, and a firmware engineer.
One thing I’d like to mention is: don’t let your budget define your engineers’ qualifications. You can hire a talented dedicated development team even on a tight budget. This will help you save money on employee packages, office space and all those costs attributed to maintaining an in-house team.
I’ve seen startups with great ideas come to Lemberg Solutions. They find genuine support here, with people striving to make their product as good as it can be. And when they are ready to hire in-house, they do — as easy as that.
Don’t let your budget stand in the way of your success.
And do feel free to start a conversation below if you have any questions. I’ll try my best to answer them or ask Lou’s input — either way, we’ll get back to you.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ve found something useful.
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