6 Team-Building Tips from the CEA Innovate! Conference

October 2, 2014

2:20 pm

This week, entrepreneurs like Nolan Bushnell and Paul Singh are converging on Arizona for the CEA Innovate! Conference, a three-day event bringing together big and small tech companies.

The Wednesday schedule included a panel led by our CEO Frank Gruber, called “Startup Success Stories.” He was joined by Ximena Hartsock, president and cofounder of Phone2Action; Jake Sigal, CEO of stealthy startup Tome; and Robert Struble, president and CEO of iBiquity.

Their discussion centered on people: building a culture, hiring, and choosing the right partners and investors. Here are six of the best team-building tips they shared with the crowd.

1. Devote significant effort to hiring

While we all know Fred Wilson as the cofounder of Union Square Ventures, Struble knows him in a different capacity: as a former fraternity brother. Still, Struble got the same advice from Wilson that you might have heard:

“A CEO has three jobs and three jobs only: raise money, set strategy, and hire good people,” said Struble. In other words, hiring is one of the most important things you have to do.

2. Get your team involved in hiring

But that doesn’t mean the CEO or cofounders have to be the only ones involved. Sigal said he doesn’t even interview candidates until they’ve passed his team’s review.

“[The team] would debate on what’s really important and the key attributes of a person we like on our team,” said Sigal. “They feel like they take ownership of it and they’re building their team. It was never my team – we were in this together, we were a family.”

3. Look for a good mix of people

While you’re figuring out those “key attributes” you want to hire for, also keep in mind that the team has to work well together. Ten anti-social superstars may not be the most productive combination.

“It’s not just individual attributes that we look for, but the mix and match. Because the culture of a team is set by the mix and match,” said Hartsock. With a good blend of people, you’ll get a healthy diversity of perspectives to tackle any problems you face.   

4. Hire athletes, not position players

Struble defines position players as people who are experienced in a particular role, like sales. Athletes may not have as much experience, but they can fit in multiple positions while growing and learning.

“Go for the athlete – go for the person with much better potential, with a higher ceiling. Because you’re a growing business, and there’s going to be more stuff for that person to do as you go forward,” said Struble.

You can even use that dynamic – the fact that early employees will have many different roles and responsibilities – as a selling point when hiring.

5. Look for grit, not intelligence

Struble also cited research that it’s not intelligence but grit that correlates with success. “It’s sticking with something, it’s getting back up after you’ve been knocked down. Keep at it,” he said. That’s good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs – and good advice to remember when you’re hiring.

Consider throwing a little challenge at someone you’re interviewing to see how they handle it – do they shrink away, or persist? 

6. Look for people who can handle startup life

Anyone joining a startup should realize what they’re getting into – a rollercoaster that’s full of ups and downs and stress. The best founders know how to deal with that, and so do the best employees. When you lose a customer or funding falls through, you have to wake up tomorrow and keep trying.

“The stress is part of the job. When you understand that and you embrace it and you’re passionate about having those challenges, it just makes it that much more fun when you break through the wall,” said Sigal. 

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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