Jim's Blog: Entrepreneurs need to build teams

Jim Duffy is founder and CEO of E-Spark. Soon to be opening in Belfast too. You can still apply for a place here.

Building teams

We’ve heard it all before, “Investors want a great team,” “Investors will back the team ahead of the idea,” “Investors want to ensure that if someone falls under a bus, then the other members of the team can still rock on!”

So, why do so many early stage entrepreneurs still not have a team or consider a team important? – Don’t tell me it’s because you don’t have any cash.

There are a huge number of great people out there, lining up to join start-ups and scale-ups, knowing that the wages will be paltry and the chances of not making it are high, so I don’t think this is the issue. The issue is that early stage entrepreneurs don’t know how to on-board great talent and keep them on board as the proposition develops, the company takes shape and all the plates are being spun 24 hours a day.

Essentially, entrepreneurs like to do a lot on their own. When we get started, that’s usually all we have – one woman and her dog. However, the passion and vision for what we do then attracts others to our camp. If the attraction is strong enough, then they will come and want to stay – regardless of initial remuneration. But, how do ‘work alone’ entrepreneurs ensure they on-board people and develop them into the business?

Here is the problem…

Imagine a start-up is like a roundabout – you know, the kind that we played on when we were young. This roundabout is spinning fast, so fast in fact that the best place to be is the middle. It’s safe in the middle, because there, the entrepreneur knows the pain point, how she is going to solve it, the intuition for who will buy the product, how she believes the business model will work and all the hours of thinking, cogitation, debate and ideation around the market etc. A place of safety for the entrepreneur, but peril and danger for anyone else trying to get in and get on.

At the edges of this roundabout, the world is a different place. It is spinning so fast that just looking at it is terrifying. Then there is the judgement needed to work out how and when to grab hold. It’s a balancing act to leap onto the roundabout at the right time and not get hurt as it throws you off. Then, if you do get a firm hold, the centrifugal force is trying to spin you off, as the entrepreneur in the middle is moving so fast. Eventually, you may pull yourself in toward the centre and get to grips with the start-up and what is going on in the entrepreneur’s head. But, for some reason, it takes you what feels like an eternity to get into the middle with the entrepreneur, which is where you can start to really make an impact.

This is what it can be like for a new team member jumping on board a start-up, and perhaps why so many entrepreneurs fail to attract and keep good talent early on. So, it’s up to you as entrepreneurial leaders to make the jump on board less dangerous, while still challenging. If an entrepreneur keeps spinning off talent then no proper team can form and the business will not get going to its full potential.

Entrepreneurs – think this one through. It’s a mind-set and a skillset we have to develop… and it’s what investors are looking for in the medium- to long-term. That aside, if you don’t support and encourage people on your team, then they don’t know what going on inside your head and it makes it difficult for them to help you achieve your vision.

The world record for the men’s 400 metres is 43.18 seconds, as held by Michael Johnson.

Astonishingly, the world record for the men’s 400 metres relay is 36.84 seconds.

Kind of says it all…!



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