How To Assemble Your Startup Entourage


(the following is a guest post by multi-awarded entrepreneur Maoi Arroyo)

As a junkie of all things startup, I’ve always loved shows like Bloomberg’s TechStars. Whichever season you watch, these entrepreneurship-themed reality shows try to select the best teams as opposed to the best ideas. As Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, famously said

“The view that good ideas are rarer and more valuable than good people is rooted in a misconception of creativity. If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they’ll screw it up. But if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they’ll make it work.”

If there’s one thing I learned in the nine years I’ve helped tech-based startups get off the ground, it’s that business is a team game, and the firm with the best team wins. It’s unavoidable that the media and the public focus on the “front men”. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Dado Banatao: the charismatic and slightly kooky guys get the attention. People gravitate to “self-made” men.

Except that there is no such animal.

Show me anyone you think is “self-made” and I will show you at least three other people who helped get them there and are wealthy enough to do anything they want.  Larry Page and Sergei Brin founded Google in 1998, and Marisa Mayer was employee #20 in 1999. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she’s now CEO of Yahoo. Why in the world would she want to be in charge of a floundering company like Yahoo? Because after you grow a company from 20 to 30,000 staff; you have enough money to  be comfortable and you can do something ludicrously risky.

So the question is: if you want to be the next Google, how do you find a Marisa Mayer? Who do you recruit to your founding team and in what order?


expertSorry, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. DOM is shorthand for the person with Domain Knowledge. You want to start a restaurant? Makes sense to start with a chef. App Development?  A programmer would be useful. Fashion? A thorough examination of the fashion portfolio and comparative analysis of chaka-ness is a must.

Domain knowledge can come from experience, education, or both. Choo Yeang Keat was a Malaysian cobbler who had been making shoes since he was 11. He built a respectable business which exploded when Tamara Mellon, accessories editor from British Vogue, partnered with him. Jimmy Choo’s shoes now sell in 32 countries for prices that regularly give husbands palpitations.

If you are the DOM, you’d better have geek cred and partner with someone who is market savvy and handle all those pesky numbers and “models” that always seems to be encapsulated in PowerPoint Smart Art. If you aren’t the DOM, find one and give them the role of Chief Technology Officer.

The Wizard

wizardSome people call them mentors, but I call them Wizards. Wizards are both mentors and tormentors. It’s Merlin’s job to tell you that this Lancelot guy you’re thinking of hiring is cuter than you and your wife is into him. It’s Gandalf’s job to call you a “Fool of a Took” when you wake up the Balrog. The Wiz is going to provide you insight to the very important baby steps you should take BEFORE you found the company. Things like technology and market validation before you waste your money on a patent. In return for this knowledge, you should give them a part of your company EVEN IF they aren’t going to be involved in running it from day to day. 3% equity up-front or 10% vested over 3 years (translation: “3 gives”); in preferred shares that have no voting rights but get paid FIRST when you issue dividends. Like any RPG, your wizards will stand back from the fray and need time to cast massive spells. Keep them with you and don’t let them get overwhelmed.

The Anti-You

oppositesIsolate the key things that are characteristic of you and find someone who is the complete opposite. I’m the kind of person who can come back from the bathroom with 20 new ideas that I want to pursue simultaneously. I have a knack for exaggeration. Math classes gave me PTSD. No one has ever accused me of shyness or humility. So I found a detail-oriented, frighteningly accurate, introverted co-founder who inhales numbers and exhales cash. Naturally you have to have the same vision and integrity, but someone you respect has to stand up to you and pull you back from insanity.

The Spartan

spartanThe Spartans embody the philosophy that makes start-ups work. If one Spartan falls, another one takes his place. They work as a single unit. All of them are leaders. Filipinos seem to live in horror of having “too many leaders”. That’s because we misunderstand what leadership is. Being able to lead well is a skill, not inborn ability. You can get people to listen to you by being charismatic; leading them is something you have to learn how to do. It’s essential to be in command of yourself before you try and command others, and you must prove yourself worthy and deserving of your team’s trust in you with your every action. A leader for a startup is not “in the rear, with the gear”. They stand shoulder to shoulder, right up front. They are the tip of the spear. They are the first among equals.

The Spartan is your CEO. On very rare occasions is your DOM a Spartan. That’s because the critical job of a CEO is sales. You know how a Founder-CEO is pitching? His mouth is open. That’s all they do. They have a recruitment pitch, they have a sales pitch, and they have a fund-raising pitch. If your CEO can’t pitch, get another CEO. There will be no cash to manage, no team to enable, no world-changing company if they cannot pitch.

You can call yourself an entrepreneur but until you get a solid team and some cash, you’re just some wannabe with a great idea. Ideas don’t change the world, people do.

Don’t stay a wannabe.

You can learn the fine art of PitchCraft on Saturday, May 25. Karen Hipol, associate director of Carillion Partners, will teach you what to pitch and I’ll teach you how to do it. Attend the event and you get an opportunity in June to get in front of institutional investors, all for one low price! (See I told you all we do is sell).  The PhP 500 discount ends on May 15th, and slots are limited. Sign-up today and build your dream team! – Maoi Arroyo

5 thoughts on “How To Assemble Your Startup Entourage

    • The Wiz isn’t necessarily The Anti-You. Plus, the Wiz *usually* isn’t involved in your day-to-day activities. Sure you can combine both roles; but having Gandalf in your party isn’t always the best use of your wizard. Sometimes he’s more useful calling back-up. Say, The Riders of Rohan. Whereas Boromir can fight up front with you, call your bluff, and keep Merry and Pippin in line. The people you deploy depends on the battle, but you need all party members to win the war.

      • Still, the list seems like an arbitrary collection of archetypes. I can’t see why I can’t simply fill all these roles myself.

      • I wouldn’t suggest going it alone for too long when you start-up. You shouldn’t stay a sole proprietorship if you want to grow. It’s exhausting and makes you seem like a “mom and pop” store to investors. Hiring “employees” who you might feel is “beneath you” in either skill level or authority would be disastrous. You need to work with people who can challenge you.

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