Building a Rockstar Startup Team [Insights from GROW Conference]

August 28, 2012

9:00 am

Finding the right startup team can be the difference between a tense office culture, constant interruptions, and passive-aggressive emails and days full of high-fives, heads-down work, and happy hours. At GROW Conference, Vancouver’s premier startup event with over 800 attendees, a few speakers reminded us how a solid team can be the foundation for everything else.

Ben Huh, Cheezburger Network

Ben Huh’s job – curating the most lol-worthy parts of the Internets – may seem easy. But he had a different set of obstacles: convincing venture capitalists to hand over millions of dollars for a cat-photo business and competing with all the other funny, time-wasting sites online. To be part of a startup, he realized, you need to be unsatisfied with the status quo.

“When someone says, “It’s good enough; don’t mess with it,’ I think, ‘Why are you here?’”

 Julia Hartz, Eventbrite

When Eventbrite reached 100 employees, cofounder Julia Hartz began worrying that they would lose their startup culture. So she gave all her employees a say in shaping that culture, which led to an annual talent show, peer-to-peer classes, yoga and biking groups, and much more. She also started doing weekly town halls, where the cofounders sit down with anyone who wants to attend and chat candidly about company issues and vision.

“Make sure your team believes in what you’re doing and believes they can achieve it … You can’t fake it. People can smell bullshit from a mile away.”

West Stringfellow, PayPal

Last week, PayPal branched out from online payments to offer payment options in stores. In a partnership with Discover, they allow retail customers to pay with their PayPal account by entering their phone number and pin. This was a completely new challenge for the PayPal team to tackle.

“We had to give our team permission to fail. And fail fearlessly, fail boldly, but fail quickly and move on from it … Failure is an absolute part of innovation.”

Mikkel Svane, Zendesk

Zendesk started as an obscure Danish company off the radar of US venture capitalists.

“If you have really good people, they will have lots of other temptations. … To keep the group together while you’re bootstrapping and there’s no money – that’s the most complicated part.”


Photo credits – Flickr user Joi (Ben Huh); and (CC) Randy Stewart, (Julia Hartz).

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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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