With its ups and downs and twists and turns, I’m sure most of you can readily appreciate the metaphor of life as a rollercoaster.
This analogy also often applies to startup life, but the metaphor isn't completely accurate. The truth is, as an entrepreneur, it is hard to predict when you’ll reach the top or when you’re going to tumble. The twists you have to take to best position your company are often hard to forecast and unforeseen circumstances -- whether it be a sudden change of heart from a funding source or a loss of an influential first customer -- can send you right back to the drawing board without a complete roadmap of where you’re going next.
So, I think of startup life more like riding a rollercoaster in the dark -- you know there will be ups and downs but you can't anticipate when they will occur.
This is important to keep in mind when it comes to building your team. In my experience there are three types of people you’ll come across in forming your first team – and they all have vastly different reactions to the startup rollercoaster.
1. The Thrill Seeker
The Thrill Seeker lives for the ride. He or she thrives under the high-pressure, time-consuming atmosphere that envelops most startups while embracing both the celebrations and unexpected problems with equal fervor. Once the ride is over (i.e. the company has failed, been acquired or reached a certain level of stability), they find a new rollercoaster to jump on.
The Thrill Seeker can be a very valuable team member. Many have been on the ride before, and, while they can’t predict the turns your company might have to take (and they love the fact they can’t), they can be an essential source of expertise and counsel to other less experienced teammates, guiding them through peaks and valleys.
That said, be wary of taking on too many Thrill Seekers. They can be headstrong and may attempt to take control of direction -- even when it’s not theirs for the taking.
2. The Noob
Do you remember your first rollercoaster? You would size it up while staring at it from the safety of the ground. You'd try to dismiss any last-second regrets as your strapped yourself into the seat; your stomach would tie itself in knots as the cart inched towards the first apex. Those were your last moments as a rollercoaster "Noob." (my name for newbie.)
As a founder, you won’t be in short supply of Noobs to bring aboard. Often on the younger end of the age spectrum, Noobs have more time to devote to startup life and want the experience. They are also being pulled in fewer directions by external factors and are commonly drawn in by the more romantic – if naively misguided -- notions of startup life.
Pay close attention to the Noobs on your team. Nobody really knows how they will handle riding the startup rollercoaster for the first time. Some will fall in love with the experience and become great team members going forward. Others will end up regretting the decision to turn their life over to a startup.
Particularly during times of unforeseen problems, these Noobs will look back longingly at the more stable lifestyle they had before joining your team, and they may become disgruntled, which could be toxic to your startup’s chemistry.To avoid this, make sure to consistently check in on them to see how they’re doing and encourage honesty and transparency in their communications.
However, Noobs also bring with them the benefit of fresh perspective. New ideas are the lifeblood of small teams and those with little to no entrepreneurial experience can also be the ones who have refreshing ideas.
3. The Onlooker
At the amusement park, there is always the group of people who are content to hold the bags and belongings of those riding the rollercoasters. These are the Onlookers – the people who have long since made peace with the fact that they do not wish to ride.
As an entrepreneur, there are more than a few people I have met in my professional life who I wish expressed interest in joining me on my new ventures. Whether they are talented marketers, salespeople or developers, they are among the best I’ve have seen at their profession yet they have no interest in helping beyond offering kind words and best wishes.
As tempting as it is to recruit an Onlooker, I would recommend looking elsewhere for talent. They may jump on the ride (after a lot of persuasion) but there heart just isn't in the entrepreneur lifestyle.
Startup life, like a rollercoaster, is a high-pressure experience, and no one reacts to pressure in the same way. You have to be selective and deliberate in choosing the right people for your founding team.
Related: The 5 Myths About Entrepreneurship