Tips for Building a Highly Effective Software Development Team for a Startup
It’s important to invest proper time and effort into building a great software development team that will make your startup project shine. Learn the tips of successful teambuilding from successful business owners.
Startups are highly risky. Only hard work of C-level, marketing staff and a proper development team for a startup may contribute to the project’s survival. So, choosing those who will cover the hardest initial steps of your business and will help it rise is the highest priority for startup owners.
We have surveyed the owners of successful startups on the most critical advice they could give based on their experience regarding the ins and outs of building their teams. If you are ready to start a team offshore – check our article about IT Outsourcing countries and about Ukrainian developers.
Here are the:
21 tips from those who made it in the tough and competitive market
1. Don’t let toxic employees undermine your team’s work
There are always ‘toxic’ people with a self-defeating, victim psychology in development teams. They stagnate the teamwork and always look for the root causes of problems anywhere but not in their mediocrity. It’s vital to identify such persons and get rid of them to help your team advance.
One study showed that out of 10 team members, one will work hard, 2 will resist the change persistently, and the rest may do some good only if they are pushed. Such a mean team composition is observed in any average company.
But you don’t want your company to be average, do you? To determine a person who will disseminate the self-defeating morale in the team, test the waters at the job interview by asking potential employees about their professional failures, small and large, and the causes of those failures. Why do they think those failures happened?
Ask 2-3 questions on this topic; if the candidate finds all possible reasons for a failure in others, it may be a red flag.
Iva Kozlovskaya, CEO at Qubit Labs.
2. Look for cross-functional team members
It’s important to hire people with a variety of skills for the core team to allow yourself greater flexibility and multi-functionality when the need arises without hiring extra staff.
The greatest tip I can give on how to build a software development team for a startup is to find someone who is a utility knife of a person. Having someone on your team who can do many different things well will greatly benefit your team as a whole.
A marketing expert who can be your photographer, videographer, web designer, and copywriter is not too much to ask and will definitely help your team make a bigger impact.
Cole Anderson, Digital Marketer at Outcry.io.
3. Ensure the development team’s cultural fit and buy-in
The team’s congruence with your project’s culture and goals is paramount for guaranteeing the team’s commitment to your project. Without that fit, the startup’s strategy will hardly be accomplished as the team will stick to its conflicting values.
Building a software development team is an exciting time; however, if built incorrectly, it can have negative implications on the startup. This is why creating the right team and the right team culture is paramount. One of the most valuable tips I can give to someone building a start-up is to make sure you know your bigger picture and get everyone’s commitment to it.
If your start-up’s north-star is to create a global impact, but your team is comfortable staying local, this misalignment in values and growth will create friction in meetings, projects and overall execution.
Putting together a team that fits culturally is very important.
The instances we got it wrong have affected us tremendously, which is why we are so passionate about getting it right and recommend that if you’re building a startup team, you are, too.
MacRae, CEO of Appetiser Apps.
4. Hire on a performance basis, not past background
No matter how much people did for their previous employers; it’s much more important to see how agitated and inspired they are to push your startup to new heights. So the answer to how to hire dedicated software development team for your startup is hiring based on the developer’s personal potential and character pays off better than focusing on brilliant resumes.
Building a core startup team may be harder than building the startup business itself.
As you want to move quickly, it’s tempting to hire quickly as well, but thoroughly vetting and being patient for the right candidates will pay off. I’ve found hiring based on drive, motivation, self-teaching and the creativity to “get the task done” are even more important than past experience.
Looking at resumes, I also care less about their education and past employers and more about the results they have been able to generate.
Recently we hired a 19-year-old recent high school graduate who had built a website and using SEO had taken it to 500K+ visitors in a year. That was much more impressive than his not having attended college or working at major companies before.
Ryder Meehan, Co-Founder at Upgrow.io
5. Make a strong emphasis on communication among software development team members
Make sure you communicate openly and positively with all members of development team. You’re all in one boat, and the best thing to motivate your colleagues is to show that you appreciate their effort.
Prioritize communication and work with people you enjoy being around and who love to learn and are open.
Your team must understand that communication is predominant for the success of the company. When it comes to the interests of the organization, you really can’t be too open with your partners.
How to build a software development team for startup? Understand what you do best and what skills you lack, and then look for team members who will strengthen the business accordingly.
Culture fit is one of the most important principles for every position you hire, and your starting team is no exception.
Norhanie Pangulima, Content Marketing Executive at SIA Enterprises.
6. Have a plan
It’s wise to follow a precise, well-formulated business plan for your startup. But if your market realities suggest a faster pace of development and require urgent action – take it as it’s the natural course of business growth.
Write a strategy and hire your team accordingly! If you’ve got a hiring plan and you know how you’re need to expand over time, it’s worth keeping that in mind and following it. But, before you follow a regimented plan remember that it can be a loose plan that promotes a malleable approach to business.
So, if you have a record year and have too many clients to handle, but you’re planning to hire more people for your development team only next year, ignore it and bring in the help. A great, successful startup will keep a plan of what they’ll be achieving at what time, but they’ll know when to ignore that and ‘go with their gut’.
Andy King, Director at Jamjar.com.
7. Aim for a diverse team that glues together
For a startup team it’s wiser to hire people that can work together smoothly and who possess some additional skills to multi-task and support the team in the times of need.
As a CEO, the first skill I look for is common sense. Moreover, other soft skills like dedication, action taking and risk taking can be a plus.
Other than that, the team members must be a great fit with each other. A football team with “All Star” players may not play the best game as compared to a team that has less experienced players but they all play like a team, feeling more comfortable with each other and having great team bonding. They are easy-going with each other and glue together.
Usually one should look for T-shaped people instead of I-shaped, which means they must have experience in their own skills but some of their skills must overlap with each other. For example, if you are looking to start an app-based product, you do not need a team of 5 with all software engineers; instead, go for 1 full-time engineer, 1 designer, 1 legal advisor, 1 marketer.
So, in a nutshell, a diverse team is the one with the right fit with each other with great vision and competitive knowledge. A wrong team can make disastrous decisions like Apple did when they removed Steve Jobs as their CEO.
Last but not least, the team must not make excuses.
Martin Luenendonk, Co-Founder & CEO of Cleverism.
8. Never neglect soft skills even for software developers
While hard skills are critical to set the project going, soft skills including leadership, communication, and negotiation are also instrumental in business success. Team members should be able to collaborate, treat each other with respect, and manage conflict; otherwise, they may fail the entire project.
Never neglect soft skills. Yes, you need hard skills to execute a role correctly, but in a startup, soft skills like communication are almost as important.
The smaller the team, the more necessary constructive feedback and input is – if you hire employees excellent at their job but lacking the people skills to contribute to product decisions or worse, contributing without tact or courtesy, you are taking a real chance with your hire.
Quincy Smith from Ampjar.
9. Hire the core team
At the beginning of the startup, only the core skills matter. Hire people with skills without which you can’t do. The rest can be added later once the project progresses.
When building a startup development team, make sure to only hire for positions you actually need for a specific reason.
When you start hiring too broadly or too much with no specific purpose, you’re simply wasting money and resources that could have been allocated more wisely to help your startup grow.
Stacy Caprio, Founder at Growth Marketing.
10. Establish effective cross-department communication
It’s critical to share information on time and bring in all perspectives into strategic development planning.
And what is the most important tip? When your team is already assembled, make sure that you all talk to each other.
Remember that you all have one common goal and that all of you are against the problem and not you versus your teammates. Discuss issues, find solutions together, do not blame each other, talk problems over and work together. I can’t stress that enough: collaborate.
Aga Cejrowska from Pulno.
11. Invest in communication and problem-solving
Conflicts in software development teams may be a serious hurdle to whole team performance and efficiency. Thus, explicit measures should be taken to resolve conflicts and manage the team productively.
You can have a team member with huge talent but with a poor work ethic and despite the best intentions, that cooperation will not work out.
Aga Cejrowska from Pulno.
12. Outsource whatever you can including software development
Outsourcing has proven to be a great cost-cutting measure adding flexibility to a startup in terms of the initial investment. Thus, startups on a budget should create a proper mix of in-house and outsourced software development teams to keep to their financial targets.
When we started Discosloth almost three years ago, we bootstrapped the startup costs with our own money. We knew we wanted to run a tight ship without too much overhead, so we decided to create an entirely distributed team.
At first, we outsourced much of our work to freelancers. After we were able to increase our revenue stream over the first year, we decided to bring more work in-house, so we hired some full-time colleagues.
We are still scattered across the United States and Europe, working entirely remotely. I really recommend outsourcing some of the common tasks whenever possible – chances are you don’t need a full-time content writer or accountant for the first few years of your startup’s life, so it makes more sense to contract that work out.
Gil Gildner, from Discosloth.
13. Always look for new talent
People with talents important for your company and possessing strong interpersonal skills will always add up to your startup success. Thus, it’s wise to be on a lookout for new talented employees who may join the team and raise your business to new heights.
You need to gather passionate people who are different, have the right chemistry with one another, and display a cultural fit with your company. To achieve this, you should not only focus on your network but also try to post jobs in different platforms such as university career pages, LinkedIn, or an incubator’s website.
Also, continuously look for talent wherever you go and with every action you take. In sales, it is said that a salesperson should “always be closing” to achieve success. Analogously, for startup teams, the founder should “always be looking for talent.”
Hanif Bayat, from wowa.ca.
14. Look for energy, passion and complementary skills to complete your startup development team
Inspired developers committed to your project’s success can move it well forward. It’s better to hire energetic employees for your dedicated development team willing to go the extra mile to make it a success. The team works the best if it includes staff with complementary skills but similar vision; similar skill sets may cause a conflict of roles.
We started as two founders in their living rooms to raise VC money and become recognized as one of the best fashion tech startups in the industry. Here are my tips for building a startup team:
Same passion: Find someone who has the physical and mental energy to pull through the tough times and has similar passions as you.
Someone you work well with: You will be spending most of your days together trying to solve every problem that comes your way, so it goes without saying you need to work well together.
Skills that complement yours: You don’t want someone with the exact same skills as you. Ideally, you want someone with a different skill set. You might want to try the ‘one builds, one sells’ approach. A co-founder to build the product and one to sell it.
Same vision: Before committing to a long-term partnership with someone, you want to make sure you share the same vision for your company. Whether it is to sell your company and become rich, or make it a lifestyle business, you both have possess the same goal.
Michael Michelis, from Intelistyle.
15. Don’t push those who don’t develop
The worst for any process in startup, be it software development team or marketing team is an employee who stuck at one place and doesn’t want to develop. Such a stagnant mindset may cause the entire project to stagnate.
My biggest mistake was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you.
As soon as I let them go, the culture got stronger and the bar – higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though, but lesson learned for sure!
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO at Mavensandmoguls.com.
16. Invest in employee training to make your startup team stronger
Hiring a senior-level executive may be too costly for a startup. Besides, such professionals usually have a well-established business philosophy and approach that may not fit your project. It’s much better to find individuals with great talents and prospects, to invest in their training, and to let them grow together with the business and your startup development team.
Don’t bring in splashy, senior hires right away. Hire young entrepreneurs directly out of school – they bring an extra grit and hard-working attitude that you can’t find in the workforce. This also allows companies to train and invest in these employees – as well as the cost benefit.
Levi Olmstead, Director of Marketing at 2ndKitchen.
17. Look for open-source technology contributors
Participation in open-source projects may tell much about the professional and his/her ability to invest more time and effort into the project they care for. Those who develop open-source software are more altruistic, energetic, and creative, as well as well-tuned to the latest tech developments.
My top piece of advice for any entrepreneur looking to build an IT team at their startup is to seek out developers with a track record of contributing to open-source technology and building side projects which they have actually gone onto launch.
Developers who ship side projects and regularly contribute to open-source technology are far more likely to go the extra mile as part of your team, while also making sure your team stays up to date with the latest development languages and software.
Amara Ukaigwe, CEO at Book Learn Pass.
18. Ensure healthy staff commitment
Startups usually require much initiative as they involve growing a business from zero, which is often overwhelming. By hiring a truly committed team, you may rest assured that your staff will be fully engaged and willing to invest extra time and effort into making the project work out.
Entrepreneurs should seek out individuals who exhibit a high level of commitment to their job.
As an executive for a startup, you’re going to need all the help you can get. You want people who will be fully committed to helping the company grow and succeed. In other words, you want individuals who take their job seriously and are willing to go above and beyond (e.g. stay late to get an important project done, come up with new ideas to make processes more efficient, help train other employees, etc).
You want to stay away from people who just treat the position like any other 9-5 job where they’re in the cars the minute the clock hits 4:59pm regardless of how talented they might be.
With that said, commitment can be a difficult thing to convey in a twenty-minute interview. As such, I think it needs to come through in the examples and anecdotes candidates use to answer questions about their experience.
I’m referring to concrete evidence of how they went above and beyond in their past job on a project or helped a colleague, for example. Accordingly, I’d steer business owners and managers to ask questions related to these subjects. Really push for detailed stories and anecdotes so you can get a better idea of how the individual approaches his or her job.
Matthew Ross, Co-owner and COO at The Slumber Yard.
19. Create a positive work environment
A strong, positive business culture can help startup teams overcome the hardest times. It’s critical to ensure that your software development team has a spirit of closeness and even friendship, able to give each other support in case of need.
One of the best tips that I’d like to give for building a start-up team is to create a sense of camaraderie among team members because corporate culture is one of the reasons why businesses fail or succeed. It’s very important to create a meaningful community that connects everyone together.
It not only improves and increases productivity but also helps greatly with employee retention.
You can cultivate this positivity in the work environment through giving autonomy, respecting differences and values and, most importantly, resolving conflicts peacefully.
Ezra Mikhel, from Stafftimerapp.
20. Look deeper into the team members’ characters
Besides the professional competencies you’re looking for, pay attention to additional skills and character of the staff. It’s recommended to avoid people prone to conflict, those with poor communication skills, unable to collaborate and team up with others.
When you’re making a startup team, you need to have a crew that you can trust and rely on. Sometimes it’s even better to include people with less experience but a stronger motivation to succeed.
Keep in mind that you are in charge of the process and you get to decide who you want to work with in the future. It’s important not to rush the selection process as it may cost you a lot once you start the business.
Set up a strict work culture in your software development team.
Once you have the people you want to work with, it’s important that you set up a strict work culture that everybody will respect. The first phase in starting a business is usually the most important, so you need to make sure that everybody is being productive and respective of each other’s efforts.
Nick Galov, Co-founder of Review42.
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