February 24, 2012
“And what I’m interested in, is investing in people.” – Arthur Rock
A company can have the best concept for a product/service, perfect timing, and an endless access to capital, but without the right people, a startup’s days are numbered. It’s the difference between the Titanic sinking and safely landing an engineless plane in the Hudson.
Sendhub, a simple messaging solution that enables businesses to send texts to groups of any size, has a promising crew around it. Some of their accomplishments includes:
Garrett Johnson (co-founder): Graduated from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in DC.
Ash Rust (co-founder): Served as an officer in the British Army, graduated from Oxford, former Director of Ranking at Klout.
John Fallone (co-founder): Competed in Track and Field for the Florida State Seminoles, currently completing his Juris Doctorate at the George Mason University School of Law.
How could you not be intruiged by this trio? I caught up with the SendHub founders to talk about the importance of team, finding the perfect designer, and, of course, cocktails.
Tech Cocktail: How did the team meet?
Garrett Johnson: John and I were on the track team together at FSU and lived together during undergrad. When I moved to DC post-Rhodes, John and I lived together for another 2 years. Ash and I went to grad school together at Oxford – we met on his first day.
Tech Cocktail: What advice can you offer in regards to finding a good designer? What qualities are most important?
Ash Rust: Firstly, I’d say don’t underestimate the importance of getting a good designer, nor how it long it will take. We’re lucky to have a great one but we went through at least 5 before finding him and the process was time consuming. Here’s what I did:
- Pick some large/searchable resource of designers, e.g. dribble
- Pick some relevant keywords, e.g. mobile, food, and search.
- Now you should have a long list of potential designers.
- Go through this list quickly by only keeping those with work that you love, no maybes.
- Create a generic email template, including who you are, what you do, when you’d need them to start, and what their rate is.
- Send it out and go through your responses, discount all those who aren’t available or within your price range. Should be ~10 left now.
- Reply to the remaining asking to do a call to ensure there’s no personality conflicts.
- On the call, ask them to do a 2 hour paid project to solve a design problem you have right now.
- Keep only the ones you like from here and give them feedback on what you’d like to be changed. This is key, as you need to know how they respond to feedback.
- Pick a winner.
Tech Cocktail: What do you think constitutes the ideal startup team? How do you embody this? Are there areas for improvement?
Ash: I’d say a group that can do everything: engineering, design, sales and product. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic, so to move a level higher, you need people who will get things done. Rockstars, ninjas and the like tend to be big talk wannabes, what you need is people who can isolate a problem, it’s market and get the product that addresses it out the door.
We’re still very early, so it remains to be seen if we embody any of this. We’d all like to ship things faster, be better at processing feedback and close more deals. I think anyone who feels they already have all the necessary skills to deal with what happens at a startup will be proven wrong but that could easily just be our experience.
John Fallone: Team-wise, I think multiple perspectives are invaluable, but there should be a heavy emphasis on the tech-side of things because they are the architects of the product. If your tech team isn’t strong, then the company will fail. Sales and business development is important to help the tech-side of the team determine the direction of the product. The sales and BD side can help steer the product development for the most useful and desired product.
In regards to the actual development of a company, the ideal startup team is one that has two qualities – recognition-ability and adaptability. Regardless of who is on the team and their respective backgrounds, a team that can recognize opportunities and problems will be able to develop a useful product, while avoiding pitfalls. The ability to adapt is the follow-through which delivers the end product – results.
Tech Cocktail: There is certainly no lack of resume material on this team. Is a collision of egos ever an issue in the office?
Ash: Every day we initially disagree on almost everything, except we want to build something that people want. We have a philosophy of strong opinions, weakly held; it certainly raises the office’s decibel reading but also makes sure all issues are out in the open.
John: Much like Ash says, I think we disagree a lot; but this is what makes a great team. In fact, I am pretty sure when we are editing our responses, we will disagree on what to keep and discard. But the beauty of a team is that we all bring different perspectives. Garrett’s background is in politics, Ash’s background is in tech and startups, and my background is in law and business. When we arrive at a contentious issue, we each bring a unique view that helps us form an action plan. When there is a yes or no question, we make a decision and the disagreeing party moves on. We all know that one decision is not make-or-break and we shouldn’t be offended by the outcome. Our banter sometimes reminds me of the discussions between representatives at the Constitutional Convention Debates.
Tech Cocktail: “How well do you know your fellow co-founder” test: What is your fellow co-founders’ favorite cocktail/adult beverage?
Ash: Garrett never used to drink but now it seems to be rum and Coke. John loves fruity drinks (Margaritas and Pina Coladas).
John: Garrett doesn’t drink much, but rum and Cokes. Ash probably likes beer the best.
Garrett: Ash drinks Sweet Tea Vodka and John’s favorite is Newcastle.
(Answer key: Ash – sweet tea vodka and lemonade; John - “fruity drinks”; Garrett – rum and Coke)
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