As we gear up for the next phase of StepFWD Together, we’re thrilled to announce that Tudor Birlea, Founder & CEO at Freya Sense and a seasoned entrepreneur, will be leading our workshop on ‘Building a Team’. With his rich experience in the startup ecosystem and a keen understanding of consumer psychology, Tudor brings invaluable insights to the table. We sat down with him to delve deeper into the nuances of team-building in the startup world.

What are the key qualities you look for when building a startup team?

There is a pattern I noticed in the personalities of people that thrive in the startup world:

  • People that are risk-aware. Able to recognise challenges and dangers and still able to act. 
  • Adaptable. Able to do things both quick-and-dirty and by the book, depending on what the circumstances ask for. 
  • Ambitious, but not over-competitive. Or how I like to say – “you cannot compete with me, I want both of us to win.” People able to perceive as their own success the success to which they drive others. 
  • People with a bias to action, ultimately. Not waiting for something to happen, but making things happen

How do you handle conflicts within a team, especially in the early stages of a startup?

Live by this principle if you’re at least 2 founders: equity is shared equally. This forces people to find solutions for going ahead together and tones down possible ego trips. 

For the bigger team – the founding team if you want – the CEO will be responsible for ensuring good communication and cooperation. The CEO has to really know how each member of the team manages conflict.

Here is an example. With this information, the CEO can facilitate a peaceful resolution that can strike a balance between getting along and getting results. 

Of course, there is a deeper layer to this, culturally speaking. Shared values. And while most startups are not aware of any cultural values that they might have, some pay attention to culture from day 0, and work on it intentionally.  

Why is this important? Because it is easy to put on a document 5 values that sound aspirational. There are methods to develop and bring to light the true values – like the mountains and valleys exercise we do with a lot of founders – and those values are essential in conflict resolution because those values reflect how everybody should behave for the sake of the venture.

Can you share an experience where the right team dynamics significantly impacted a startup’s trajectory?

There is the story of 2 startups: Airbnb si Quibi. If you didn’t hear about the second, it is because they started with an idea and just pushed forward, completely detached from reality. 

Well, except for a cool $1.75 bn seed. This money was real, but the team’s vision (and leadership) sent them straight to complete failure.

Airbnb raised $600k as seed. And pivoted from cereals (yes, they sold $40k worth of cereals to keep the lights on) to whatever needed to be done. Quibi closed soon, with absolutely no intention up to that point to adapt to market forces. Think about it: they were paying up to $10k per app install. 

So maybe the secret to success is to look outside and see what’s needed, because “no market need” is a cool translation for a startup that is in love with their idea and suffers from extreme market myopia. 

And this takes us to the people in a startup. If the job of a startup is to FIND a scalable business model, then the only people happy to observe, understand, and experiment will stand a chance.

How do you balance between hiring for skills and hiring for cultural fit?

Short answer? You can’t. Well, at least not all the time. Think about it – a pure cultural fit means that the candidate behaves exactly like the rest of the team. It’s cool to hire people that it’s easy to get along with, but it’s not productive to pay more salaries for the same brains.

For this situation we have cultural additions. A team member needs to share with us some core values so we can get along just fine. The specific role they have will require some extra skills – that is the part of their personality that adds to what already exists. 

And this makes perfect sense not just business wise – not paying two salaries for the same brain – but also from a diversity perspective. Different minds will bring multiple new opportunities for development and growth. Meanwhile a mono-culture (sic) will be stuck with a single perspective for the future.

Every startup’s journey is unique, but one common denominator determines its success or failure: the team. The right team can navigate challenges, adapt to changing landscapes, and drive innovation. In the volatile world of startups, having a cohesive, skilled, and aligned team isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity.

The Qualities of an Ideal Startup Team: What makes a team truly effective? It’s a blend of diverse skills, a shared vision, and a synergy where the collective output is greater than the sum of individual efforts. An ideal startup team is adaptable, resilient, and passionate. They’re not just experts in their respective domains but also possess the soft skills necessary for collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation.

Conflict Resolution: In the high-pressure environment of a startup, disagreements are inevitable. However, it’s not the conflicts themselves but how they’re managed that determines a team’s strength. Effective conflict resolution involves open communication, empathy, and a commitment to finding solutions that align with the startup’s goals. Regular feedback sessions, transparent decision-making processes, and a culture of mutual respect can go a long way in preempting and resolving disputes.

Real-life Impact: Consider the story of a startup that, on the brink of collapse, was saved by its team’s collective insights. Facing dwindling funds and a product that wasn’t gaining traction, the team came together for a brainstorming session. Leveraging their diverse backgrounds, they pivoted to a new direction, turning their fortunes around. This story underscores the profound impact a united team can have on a startup’s trajectory.

Balancing Skills and Culture: While technical prowess is crucial, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. A team member might be the best coder, marketer, or salesperson, but if they don’t align with the startup’s culture and values, it can lead to friction. Striking the right balance involves hiring for both skills and cultural fit. It’s about ensuring that every team member, while bringing their expertise to the table, also contributes to a harmonious and collaborative work environment.

In the end, a startup’s success isn’t just about its product, market fit, or funding. It’s about the people behind it. Building a cohesive, skilled, and aligned team is both an art and a science. It’s a continuous journey of learning, adapting, and growing together. For startups aiming for the stars, their team is the rocket that will get them there.

For those eager to dive deeper into the intricacies of team-building and gain firsthand insights from experts like Tudor, StepFWD Together is the place to be. Applications are now open, and we invite you to be a part of this transformative journey. Join us and let’s grow together!

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