As a seed stage venture firm, we see all sorts of team permutations at early stage startups. While there is definitely no one-size-fits-all model nor *right* answer to the question ‘what is the ideal team construction for an early stage company?’, we have seen time and again certain patterns to team construction that work really really really well.
As a general rule, the seed stage dream team is composed of founders filling two primary roles:
- Product visionary: a product guru with deep and extensive domain expertise, a creative and detailed product vision, and a natural ability sell the heck out of the opportunity and product. Generally, but not always, this individual serves as founding CEO.
- Tech rock star: an A++ technologist with absurd engineering chops, the ability to architect and implement the product visionary’s ideas, and one who commands the respect of other superstar engineers whom he/she can attract, inspire and lead in the engineering team.
The archetype for the best companies generally have these two roles filled by two founders, but we have also seen strong permutations with one or even three founders. Of course, there are other variations of skill sets and expertise that work well - but as a general rule, the product visionary / tech rock star tag team simply kicks ass.
Beyond these founding core components, the next few hires are all engineers. Early stage startups are most fundamentally about one thing - product. Partnerships and selling, at this stage, are simply outgrowths of product (with the important caveat that later in a company’s lifecycle the strategic focus may rebalance with BD and sales taking a more prominent role). With this laser focused mind set, early startup teams are heavily comprised of product development engineers (both front and backend) with the product visionary/CEO serving as sales and business development lead.
Only once the company grows beyond a certain point (let’s say at least 6 or 7 engineers) is there need for additional business-side staffing, generally in the form of an awesome BD lead or possibly one jack-of-all-trades who runs nearly all business-side functions (ops, finance, accounting, HR, marketing, etc) and provides much needed bandwidth relief to the CEO.
Of course, I report all of this with a grain of salt - there are no hard and fast rules for optimal team construction as each case is undoubtedly unique with specific requirements. That said, the team structure outlined above accurately reflects the best-of-breed team constructs that we have seen work in the market.
Alas, IA Ventures is only one data source and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences around best-practices for team construction in the comments!