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There is no universal plan for assembling the perfect team for launching a startup. Conventional entrepreneurial wisdom dictates that all you need for your company’s starting lineup are a designer, a hacker, and a business person, or anyone who calls themselves a ninja at something. And while there is nothing wrong with having these types of people help you get your company off the ground, putting together a winning combination should not be taken lightly. After all, who you employ early on has a considerable influence on your startup’s prospects.

In this syndicated blog post, lean startup coach and advisor shares his insights on what comprises the complete startup team and what startups should look for in team members.

Tristan is also a Mentor for the Istanbul Founder Institute.

The article, “The Complete Team”, originally appeared on Grasshopperherder and has been republished below with permission.

The Balanced Team

Some of this perfect team concept comes from the Balanced Team paradigm and perhaps Ideo, who even gives a nice venn diagram showing the origin of it on their about page. (I don’t know who came up with it.)

The Balanced Team works great in many situations. I love how Janice Fraser explained it to me:

  • The designer is responsible fordesirability of the product. Talking with customers, understanding their needs, making sure the experience doesn’t suck.

  • The engineer is responsible for thefeasibility. S/he must determine if the product can actually be built, how, and for how much.

  • The business person is responsible for the viability of the business model. S/he acts as the scales of justice when feasibility conflicts with desirability. The business person also takes care of the profit & loss statement and often manages the personalities involved.

Incomplete Teams

The thing about abstract concepts is that they’re abstract. Reality often disagrees.

The balanced team paradigm falls short when it is directly translated from concept to person. The important thing is the role.

Tech folks assume that feasibility belongs to the engineer. Not always.

Remember, there are four parts to any MVP: Customer, Value Proposition, Channel, and Relationship (If this sounds weird, read my post of the Four Parts of a Minimum Viable Product)

The MVP is not just about building the product. What about thefeasibility of the channel?

If we’re selling an enterprise CRM, the feasibility of building that channel belongs to our enterprise B2B sales person. The person with the big rolodex and crazy hustling skills.

Don’t have one? Then we have an incomplete team.

Tristan’s Incompleteness Theorem

An incomplete team’s iteration velocity is limited by its missing pieces and its budget.

That is to say, if we’re missing a key skill or role, we’re stuck. We will be unable to learn or make any progress in experimenting until members of our team are able to acquire that skill.

OR… you can hire someone to fill in a gap. That gap might be a team that is:

  • Selling an enterprise CRM with no sales person.

  • In Ukraine selling to the German market with no one who speaks fluent German.

  • From Vietnam creating an eCommerce site for American consumers where the designers has no experience with U.S.

(Note: Really, this happens. I’ve changed the countries to protect the innocent/guilty.)

The Complete Team

The complete team is able to complete the Build-Measure-Learn loop, including all Four Parts of the Minimum Viable Product.1 They will have to build the sales channel and measure product progress via the customer relationship.

Often the Hustler (a.k.a., Guy Who Can’t Code) takes on these other responsibilities and wears many hats. Sometimes, others can perform more than one role, playing designer half the time and managing to get some sales calls in on the side.

It’s not about the number of people, but if there is a skills gap.

No Constant

One of the most infuriating things about a Complete Team is that the definition changes over time.

At the beginning of a project, we might not need an engineer. We just need to go talk to customers.

We might not need a designer for a backend B2B application.

We may need an outbound marketer to run a Google AdWords campaign, but we only need a few hundred visits to run our landing page test, so it’s hardly a full time job!

Temporary Completeness

Often the solution to these gaps is part time staff. It’s often a dissatisfying level of quality, but better than nothing!

Mediocre part time help is often better than trying to multitask.

One of the great advantages that large corporations have over startups is a vast reserve of human capital. Which is what makes it even funnier when they fail to utilize it.

Many corporations are underfunding their startups by insisting they “be scrappy” instead of just giving them the budget to hire someone to run a Google AdWords campaign.

There are certain skills that every team member in every startup shouldlearn. Everyone should be able to talk to customers and have an insightful customer discovery conversation.

But does every startup need to learn AdWords from scratch? Is that a critical skill?


This is where more advanced accelerator programs like 500 Startups (who, unlike most accelerators, have an actual business model) have a massive advantage. With a specialized “Distribution” growth hacking team available to help their portfolio companies, they are able to complete teams with notable skill gaps in marketing, user acquisition, and channel strategy.

In addition, their “Distro” growth hacking team gets to hone their craft at a radically accelerated rate with the experience of working with literally hundreds of startups. So, sorry Y-Combinator, you’re awesome in many ways, but I know where I’d put my money.

Key Takeaways

  • The team needs complete skill sets to go around the Build-Measure-Learn loop quickly

  • A complete team composition will change over time

  • Geographic boundaries affect team needs in terms of sales, marketing, design, and language ability

  • Startups: Consider outsourcing for completeness

  • Corporations & Accelerators: Consider shared services for completeness


If you could benefit from Tristan Kromer's expertise,then apply to the Istanbul Founder Institute today!

(Team Corporate Teamwork Collaboration Assistance Concept image by Shutterstock)

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