Build your startup team like Tesla Motors

Entrepreneurs are told excessively that “team” is everything. Yes, product is paramount and market’s a must. But, the essence of what makes early startups successful is the team. Great people make great products and provide great services. Unfortunately, although building an early team is critical, it’s also extremely difficult.

Pre-seed cash and Series A investment capital is worth far less than the dynamism of a well-selected and well-structured team. One of the first challenges for an entrepreneur is to craft criteria for sourcing their team.

Tesla looked for talent in an ecosystem, not an industry.

Tesla Motors is innovative in many ways. But something that has always struck me as brilliant is their team sourcing strategy. Recently, over coffee with Arnnon Geshuri (VP of HR at Tesla Motors, Former Director of HR at Google), I learned one of his pivotal strategies: Be creative. Look for talent in an ecosystem not just an industry.

As Tesla Motors crafted their manufacturing strategy, their goal was not to source the best automotive robotics professionals to build their factory assembly lines, but to look for robotics engineers that possessed the greatest understanding of designing and building precision robotics. Tesla looked at robotics as a whole and hired some of the premier talent in biotech, an industry with a focus on building robotics for small, precision work.

Building DNA

That is the essence of hiring great talent. You’re actually building DNA. Team member skill sets, professional alignments, and personalities are like the genetic material that wires the way we tick. It’s the same way we make and enjoy friendships. We are drawn to succeed with like-minded individuals. And though our team members won’t always be our friends in a professional setting, a good team creates a strong environment of like-minded, albeit multifaceted individuals that help the body as a whole achieve success.

But it doesn’t end with just hiring great talent

Finding talent is one thing. Finding talent that fits your brand and mission are another. Plus, in a global market, how do you build or expand your team internationally?

Piecing together the puzzle of building a great international team is difficult. John Schonert (Founder of ReCal Consulting), a London based international executive recruiter and leadership development expert, believes that building an effective international team is very achievable if approached in the right ways. But too often it is overlooked amidst the day-to-day execution of establishing a footprint in a new place. Here is John’s take on how to accomplish it:

Step one: Start with brand and mission

Discover your brand. Define your mission, values and ethos; and align. Every organization must do this, not just startups. But with startups, it’s even more important because the quest for capital and market penetration is far less forgiving to the little guy. Team members must understand their brand—how their customers perceive the company, it’s products, and/or services. Team members must also understand the company’s mission—the strategies and goals in their marketplace. These two must align to ultimately assure a good fit.

Step Two: Overlay cultural nuance

There is more to success when hiring or expanding internationally. New team members need to not only understand the brand and mission, they must understand the cultural nuances of new or emerging market. This ensures that attributes and benefits are not lost in translation or omitted. It also ensures that the right messages and tactics are being applied to a culture whose understanding of your brand and mission may be different from your own.

Step Three: Provide coaching

Just because you find a good fit doesn’t mean you’re all set. You need to coach your team- continuously. Reinforcing the company’s values is critical. They need to internalize who the company is, what the objectives are, and how you keep tactical decisions grounded and fresh.

Now you’ve got a team

When the story of a company is told, it almost always involves the creation of the team. Investors look for DNA just as adamantly as they look for good ideas. Building a great team takes time and as much precision as a Tesla assembly robot. Start by finding the best candidates within the ecosystem, not just the industry. Make sure that each hire contributes to your DNA. Then help them grow and translate your company’s values as you continue to triumph internationally.

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Many thanks to Arnnon Geshuri and John Schonert for sharing their knowledge on team building. And to my partners at Kaizen Creative Partnership, Barry Enderwick and Gary McMath.

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