Unconventional Approaches to Building a Strong Startup Team: Lessons Learned from an Entrepreneur

Discover innovative and practical approaches for recruiting, integrating, and maintaining a high-performing startup team with insights from an experienced entrepreneur.

Unconventional Approaches to Building a Strong Startup Team: Lessons Learned from an Entrepreneur

Unconventional and innovative approaches - Entrepreneur Series #4

Article en français

When I created my first startup, I immediately understood that building a strong team was crucial to ensuring its success. However, assembling a team that works well together proved to be a real challenge! To achieve this, I combined traditional approaches with unconventional and innovative methods to select, recruit, onboard, and maintain an ideal and committed team. I wish to share with you, dear entrepreneurs, some modest advice and experiences.

Two key points in this selection process. First, passion! It is essential to recruit people who share the same passion and vision, rather than relying solely on skills. Then, the environment. For me, it was important to create a safe environment for the team, allowing individual talents to be expressed and strengthening the collective through rituals.

Selecting the Right Team

The first step in building a strong team is choosing the right people. I personally prioritized people who shared the same passion for the subject that the startup addressed. You're going to spend hours together! For the initial team, the balance is subtle. I tend to prioritize the "fit", i.e., compatibility with the people and the team, rather than recruiting solely based on skills. Of course, skills must be present as well! It's also a gamble to hire people with high potential to see if you can unleash it.

Anecdote: During my first startup, I met a candidate at an event in a school. He didn't have all the required technical skills, but his passion for the sector and his enthusiasm were contagious. I decided to give him a chance, and he became one of the most valuable members of our team, bringing incredible energy and quickly developing the necessary technical skills.

My experience?

I've taken a lot of chances on young talents, and I must admit that the gamble has more than paid off! Although beginners' experience is very limited, their potential, desire, and adaptability are an advantage during the first months of a startup's life. On the other hand, more experienced profiles often have preconceptions and want to apply recipes from past experiences. I have had some success with profiles with over 10 years of experience, but it's more of an exception, unfortunately!

Anecdote: In one of my startups, I recruited an experienced developer who had over 10 years of experience in well-known companies and startups. At first, he struggled to adapt to our environment and our innovative dynamics. Over time, he embraced our culture and even started sharing his experience with the younger team members, becoming a valuable mentor for everyone.

The Importance of the Desire to Build a Project Together

The desire to build a collective project is a key element in forming a strong team. This means that each member must be motivated by the project and have a strong commitment to the startup and its success. For this to work, it is important that the team shares common values and works in harmony. How do you integrate new recruits?

Integrating New Members

A Key Step The integration stage for newcomers is crucial for forming a great team. I made sure to create a sense of belonging from the start by introducing them to the company's vision, mission, and values. It is also important to give them an overview of how the company operates, their role, and their contribution to the startup.

Anecdote: To facilitate the integration of new members, we organized team-building days on the Ile de Ré (there are worse places! ;) focused on collaboration and the next steps for the company. At the end of the three days, not only had everyone formed bonds, but we also had a shared action plan!

Ensuring successful integration of new members involves a clear integration plan. This can include setting up a training program, assigning a mentor (buddy), and participating in team activities to promote connections between members. Creating a sense of belonging from the very first days is essential for building a strong team. This can be achieved by organizing social events such as drinks, dinners, or escape games! Regular team meetings encouraging open communication – "share and care" – are also key for creating collective connections.

Anecdote: When several developers joined our team, we decided to organize a "hackweek" to welcome them. During this week, each team member could propose an innovative project or improvement to develop as a team. We voted for the best ideas and formed sub-groups to implement them. At the end of the week, we presented our results and celebrated together with pizza at La Felicita! This experience not only helped the new developers better understand our working methods and interact with the entire team but also reinforced our culture of innovation and collaboration.

Creating Company Culture

Company culture is an important element in building a team. It is crucial to establish and maintain a culture that strengthens the collective and preserves the startup spirit and innovation. As part of a nascent culture, company culture is often constantly evolving, especially in a growing startup. It is therefore important to develop this nascent culture, which is consistent with the company's vision and values. It is also key to preserving the startup spirit and innovation so that the team remains dynamic and high-performing. This can be achieved by encouraging risk-taking and experimentation, promoting creativity, and allowing team members to propose innovative ideas. For example, allocate time for everyone to contribute their ideas and innovations with a mini personal project per month.

Innovate for Your Team as Well!

I have always enjoyed creating teams and helping them excel. To achieve this, I have developed several managerial innovations over time and refined things with each iteration , meaning with each new startup. I relied on experts, coaches, and psychologists. I can once again mention Magali Kruiper Blanchais, who played a decisive role in my companies. Managerial innovations can help create a secure environment for the team and strengthen the collective. This may include implementing horizontal management practices that promote autonomy and collective decision-making.

Key Points:

  1. Create a secure environment for the team. This is essential for allowing everyone to express themselves and give their best. This can be achieved by encouraging open communication, promoting active listening, and implementing inclusive management practices.
  2. Encourage the expression of individual talents. Allowing everyone to express their talent can help strengthen the collective and improve team performance. It is important to enable each team member to contribute in their way, according to their skills and experience.
  3. Strengthen the collective through rituals. Rituals can help strengthen the collective by creating moments of sharing and collaboration. This may include regular rituals such as stand-ups, weekly team meetings, team-building activities, or moments of celebration for team successes.
  4. Find the right balance between skills, "fit," and kindness. To build a team that can withstand the challenges of creating a startup, it is crucial to find the right balance between skills, "fit," and kindness. This means selecting people who have the necessary skills for the position, are compatible with the team, and are kind to other team members. Easier said than done. The help of specialists/coaches can be a real plus in finding the right balance.
  5. Respecting differences. Encouraging diversity is essential! Don't form a team of clones! I've come across startups where all the profiles are from my same university. This is often a disadvantage with the same limited perspective on the startup environment. Allow each team member to express themselves freely and contribute significantly to the company. An inclusive environment that values diversity of experiences and perspectives can only enrich the project. I've even dared to hire atypical, self-taught profiles - it's a gamble! Taking risks is what entrepreneurship is all about, isn’t it? Imagine graduates from the top schools meeting self-taught individuals who outperform them? Unforgettable!

Success through a united and supportive team

In summary, building a strong team is essential for the success of a startup. By using unconventional approaches such as selection based on "fit", creating a secure environment for the team, establishing and maintaining a consistent corporate culture, encouraging the expression of individual talents, and strengthening the collective through rituals, it is possible to build a united and supportive team that can overcome all challenges and achieve set objectives.

Building a solid team for your startup is clearly a challenge! Recruiting, in my opinion, is the first issue that the CEO should tackle, especially in the first year, if not the first 2 or 3 years if growth is there!

You should focus on selection, recruitment, integration, and maintaining a secure team. By using unconventional approaches such as coaches, you can create a favorable working environment that will enable your team to perform at their best and reach new heights! Don't forget to promote innovation and preserve the startup spirit to maintain your team's momentum.

So, my dear entrepreneur readers, I invite you to think outside the box, especially when it comes to building your team, to maximize your chances of success. The entrepreneurial journey is filled with obstacles, but with a strong team by your side, you'll be able to overcome challenges and thrive in your adventure!

How do you go about building a great team? Don't hesitate to share your practices!