I always like packing for a business trip. It’s the only part of the journey you absolutely control, and it informs almost everything about what you’re going to do along the way. Even the simple act of leaving your swim trunks behind on a weekend-adjacent business jaunt carries a hugely declarative implication: No play time for me.
In company-building, the equivalent of packing is assembling your core team. The kind of people you hire–and don’t–can pretty accurately dictate how you plan to run your business and will be one of the primary factors in whether your company attracts funding.
That’s because fundraising comes down to earning the confidence of investors, and the hands-down best way to accomplish this is by recruiting amazing people. Nobody who ever built a successful company didn’t at some point take talent acquisition as seriously as fundraising. In fact, there are some funds that invest in companies entirely on the basis of the quality of their team.
Simply put, fundraising and team-building are the yin and yang of growing a successful company. While your fundraising results are how you measure your success and traction, recruiting talented people who are attached to your vision is how you gain mass and momentum. And if done right, the two become true catalysts for each other–either one pushing the other to higher levels like a pair of super-competitive but preternaturally bonded siblings.
With this relationship in mind, here are four principles to live by when building your company’s roster of talent alongside your fundraising efforts.
1. Get employees first. Then investors.
Getting a talented person to join you on your company’s journey is much easier than getting even a single dollar out of an investor meeting–even though the process is really no different.
In both fundraising and team-building, you’re selling an outside party on your business and the big idea behind it. It should be the exact same pitch. However, you’re going to have a much higher success rate attracting talent, because people are simply more willing to engage proposals asking for their time instead of their money.
That’s why I pitch my investor deck to potential employees before I ever show it to a single venture capitalist. Believe me, if people aren’t saying yes to the deck when you’re trying to pay them, you have zero hope of using it to get them to pay you. Using your pitch deck with potential hires allows you to do two powerful things. One, it helps you organically grow an amazing team that will be your biggest fundraising asset once you begin taking investor meetings. And, two, you’ll get to bake the expertise of your new, brilliant hires into your business formula during its most critical formative stages.
2. Build around the problem.
To me, the most important element in fundraising is to establish massive credibility around the problem you’re trying to solve. This starts, primarily, with your founding team. After all, it’s hard to build interest in a company that consists of just you. You might be able to attract interest as a solo act in an early seed round, but at that point investors are really just investing in your track record–not the actual prospects of your company.
Clearing this early hurdle means attracting members to your team so suited to fixing the problem your company is addressing that any outsider could deduce what you’re setting out to do and plainly see that no other group of people could do it better.
In this way, the makeup of your founding team should literally make the argument for your business before you’ve said even a word to the outside world. It’s not enough to have a team whose individuals merely complement one another on an operating level, either. They need to bring together such compelling and disparate expertise and momentum that it will validate your idea as a good one to pursue in the eyes of anyone outside the company.
3. Tell your story with your people.
Harking back to the “packing for the trip” analogy, you can telegraph a lot about the kind of business you want to run by those you hire. For this very reason, I spend a lot of time with every executive I consider for a position so I can understand who they are and how to craft their story to ensure it speaks to our larger company narrative.
For example, if you hire somebody to run your marketing who has a history of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build blue-chip brands, you’re telling your investors that you’re going to do exactly that. Conversely, if you hire somebody who’s been bootstrapping brands through partnerships and affinity marketing, you’re indicating to the world that you’re going to manage costs and acquire customers more incrementally, with a distinct focus on accountability.
Sometimes, you even hire someone for a different role in your company precisely because their background fits more interestingly with a business need slightly separate from their proven skill set. For example, I recently hired the former head of an advertising firm as my company’s chief consumer officer. Throughout his career in advertising, this person has had the luxury of only working for brands that were committed to revolutionizing, disrupting, or reinventing a space. As a result, he developed such a maniacal consumer focus that putting him in charge of our customer experience (instead of brand or marketing, for example) speaks volumes about how committed I want us to be to putting the customer first–from advertising to brand to product and beyond.
4. Never coast.
No matter how successful your company’s early growth, the incredibly smart people you want to work for you will not just start flocking to your office. Your next superstar won’t see an article about your company in the trades and call to say, “Boy, I’d really like to jump in with you guys.”
In fact, top-tier talent never comes to you randomly; you always have to seek it out. And if you’re not deliberately blueprinting your recruiting strategy alongside your fundraising, you’re going to be caught flat-footed. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day you’ll be out fundraising and discover that you can’t raise that next round of funding because of a glaring hole near the top of your org chart that you took a pause on trying to fill.
Company-building means just that: working every day to piece together the people, money, and processes that will turn your business into something truly remarkable. Attracting a drumbeat of financing means concurrently toiling just as hard to grow an amazing team.
To attract the best people, you must stay on top of the narratives that attract them to work with you. You must prove to them that you’re building an enduring business. You must show them how you’re building a great culture and why your company will be a worthwhile investment of their time.
Your reputation won’t tell these stories. Neither will your articles, track record, or fundraising results. You have to–again and again and again.
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