This Is How You Build A Great Team: Founders Tell All

Having interviewed close to 50 founders from all over the world across two seasons of our podcast, a common theme in our conversations is what it takes to build a strong team. Hiring, nurturing and growing talent in an organisation - especially a nascent one - is critical in ensuring startup success. Yet, it remains one of the most difficult hurdles for founders or CEOs to overcome, with 23% of failed startups citing ‘failure to get the right team together’ as the reason for folding.

Hire Outside Your Neighborhood

For Ankiti Bose, co-founder and CEO of Zilingo, succeeding in a region as diverse as Southeast Asia starts with having a diverse team. “We have 15 nationalities in Zilingo. We are also a 50% female team, but even within that there’s so much diversity and all sorts of different ethnicities, religions and cultures,” says Bose. “We took a very localized approach to team-building. We told our local founders the core guiding principles, but we also said: You know your country best. We made it work by letting these subcultures be independent, but by also tying them together with common goals.”

Being one of the most recognized investors in Asia, GGV Capital’s managing partner Jenny Lee urges, “I encourage all the founders out there, when assembling your team; don’t just have people from your neighborhood even though they are essential for you to get started. Over time, think of how to build a team that’s more regional, if not global, that will help you to enter and win in multiple geographies.”

Experience is Overrated, Hire for Passion

“When hiring a person, I always look for passion and intelligence over experience,” says Manu Kumar Jain, Global Vice President of Xiaomi and the Managing Director of Xiaomi India. “A large number of leaders who are very intelligent, very passionate, and have zero relevant experience, and that does not matter. In fact, I strongly recommend people to move different roles within the company and move roles radically.”

Be an Accessible Founder

A strong advocate for open communication, Manu elaborates, “For a lot of companies, their country heads rarely talk to their CEO or Chairman on a daily basis. They will typically meet once in a year for an annual review. They will not have direct access to the entire board in case of any problem or issue. In my case, I talk to Lei Jun [Xiaomi’s founder] almost on a daily basis. Every time I go, I meet many of our board members and even co-founders and we discuss in-depth about how, or what we are doing in India, [and] how do we build up an even more robust business.”

Focus, Focus, Focus

“What we’ve been able to do at Udaan is actually maintain a lot of focus on the problem, [...] ensuring that the focus goes back to the problem,” stresses Vaibhav Gupta, co-founder of Udaan, “instead of developing power centers in the company with respect to one single organisation.” To Gupta, job titles are not nearly as relevant as a company’s focus on creating a product that will solve a problem.

Similarly, a sharp clarity on common goals is of utmost importance in a high-transaction B2C business such as Snapdeal. Kunal Bahl, co-founder of Snapdeal, says, “I guess the main learning [as a founder] I would say there is, is having a very, very high amount of clarity on your goal and then making sure you communicate that very, very abundantly and repeatedly to the team. So, like in our company if you are to wake up any of our team members at 3AM at night from their sleep and ask them, “What are the goals of Snapdeal?” They wouldn’t even need to think for two seconds and they will tell you what are the top three goals of Snapdeal from our quantitative goals.”

Cultivating Better Leaders

“A leader’s role is only one, which is creating better leaders than themselves,” emphasizes William Tanuwijaya, founder and CEO of Tokopedia. “How do you create better leaders than yourself? You basically need to give two things, which is opportunity and trust. Sometimes you only give opportunity, but you don’t trust your leaders. Sometimes you trust your leaders, but you don’t give them big opportunities. You need to give them both opportunity and trust and allow them to fail. Only by failure will they grow to become better leaders. Most importantly, we always believe that we can only be successful by helping others to be successful.”

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