Building a Startup Team That Wows Investors

This is an influencer post by David Wenger, Director of Communications, McCombs School of Business

Yes, your idea may be genius, but at the top of Rob Adam’s tips for entrepreneurs is a simple yet jarring truth. It’s all about “execution intelligence.”

HardInvestor and startup mentor Rob Adams has likely listened to as many new business ideas as anyone on the planet, and one of his first tips for entrepreneurs is to never tell a potential investor you’ve got an original idea.

“Wake up,” he says, “Good ideas are not scarce, they are a dime a dozen.” Adams suggests an online search of key words describing your idea. “You’ll find ten companies doing it, or thinking of doing it. You can drive yourself nuts searching for a unique idea, but that is not the point.”

The true success factor, as he describes in his book A Good Hard Kick in the Ass, is execution intelligence, the ability to compose a team that can operationally execute a business plan with sustainability, flexibility and resilience, to dominate rather than define a market space.

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“Every time I’m asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement I see a huge red flag pop out that says Warning!” Adams asserts. “It screams out, ‘I’m stuck on my idea,’ it means you’ve spent too much energy obsessing about the idea and probably haven’t thought enough about the team, which is what the investor is really interested in. It implies you haven’t given much thought to your customers, or to the market.”

Getting to market first with a new idea doesn’t mean anything in Adams’ experience. “Netscape’s browser was out long before Microsoft Explorer,” he reminds. “Creating a new category does not necessarily spell success, but I can think of plenty of businesses that entered an existing category and proceeded to stomp all those roaches to pieces.”

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Execution Intelligence is Where Rubber Meets the Road

Adams knows many people don’t think of the team as an integral part of a new business concept–but the ability of a particular group of people, in a particular place and time, to make a company thrive is a must have for a winning business. His tips for entrepreneurs include six critical success factors every new business team should strive to achieve:

  1. Domain knowledge. Are you experienced in the market space where you will compete? Sometimes startup teams want to explore initiatives outside their prior experience, but Adams cautions against leaving your industry knowledge behind, including intimate insight into your customer base.
  2. Fast-growth scar tissue. Without it, you can’t deal with the ups and downs of rapid growth. Just working at a startup doesn’t necessarily give you the necessary experience, claims Adams. He asks, were you driving the changes, or riding the waves? If you don’t have this experience, add someone on your team who does.
  3. Experience in hyper-competitive markets. At some point, a large, well-financed competitor will loom up overnight and bellow loudly. Can you deal with that? Entrepreneurial success requires a team to face a competitor who wants to kill you, and be energized by the challenge.
  4. Risk management skills. Massive shifts in strategy or product lines are inevitable. Are you nimble? Can you cope? Adams believes startup teams must stay connected with prospects and customers every day in order to anticipate market forces and stay aware of what customers really need and are willing to purchase.
  5. A comprehensive experience profile. Taken together, your team members must have the marketing, technical, sales, and executive expertise it takes to grow and run a company. In addition to the core management team, Adams recommends signing on key advisors with relevant and needed expertise.
  6. Leadership know-how. Your corps of employees will expand faster than you can imagine. Can you recruit, retain, and effectively manage these people? This includes devoting sufficient attention to matters such as employee culture, values, and how to reward employees when they reach key milestones.
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Its doubtful your startup team will possess all six of these attributes, but you must be aware of weaknesses and quickly move to strengthen your core. Not only will it increase your likelihood of wooing financial backers, but the very survival of your startup is at stake.

Rob“Successful businesses don’t depend on unique ideas,” he affirms. “Instead, they rely on a team’s ability to execute–to build, market, and sell a product that’s better, faster, or cheaper, and to do so to near superhuman perfection.”

Yes, your idea may be genius, but at the top of Rob Adam’s tips for entrepreneurs is a simple yet jarring truth. “Get back to the fundamentals or you’re roadkill.”

Rob Adams is an active investor, author, consultant and faculty member at McCombs School of Business, where he teaches in the MBA program and is the Director of the Venture Labs Investment Competitions. Each year he welcomes student entrepreneur teams from around the world to compete in the Global Texas Venture Labs Competition held every May on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

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