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It Takes a Village to Raise a Successful Startup

Everywhere you look in tech media, you will find stories and news around this grand idea of a startup superstar founder. This mythical person becomes famous after some massive exit from their startup via IPO (Initial Public Offering) or acquisition. To be honest, I find the whole idea of a singular “superstar founder” to be pretty silly because I personally believe it takes a village to raise a successful startup business. This “village” is comprised of the many people who come together to form what is publicly perceived as a single individual’s success.

I suppose it’s much easier for the sake of a short article or book to assign credit to one business leader, individual founder, or set of co-founders; however, the honest truth is that no successful business person can accomplish massive success when acting alone. At a very minimum, I would say that even the most successful lone wolf of a founder is not reaching her full potential because if she were able to summon a village of support, she would be even more successful and more fulfilled.

Below I compiled a list of the key contributors who help push the startup founding team into a place where success becomes more probable.

  • Team: First of all, there is a team of people behind every startup. The team helped xyz startup to push the company to the point where an exit was even possible. Sure the founders took on the lion's share of the risk/reward equation at the beginning; however, I believe the founders who find themselves in front of press and media should give their team more credit for the overall success of the company. Of course it’s impractical to say the name and social handle of every person on your team; however, as a founder, you could easily mention that the team behind the company is working hard to build abc company. The team feels recognized for their contributions and has a higher probability that it would push forward as a unit. I anecdotally make this conclusion because I always felt this way when a business leader would talk about one of my teams. If the team/company part of the contribution equation was consistently left out of the PR narrative, I would feel it on a personal level. Of course, it’s hard to quantify how much any single event had on my performance; however, I can say for certain, it did not inspire me to perform at a higher level.

  • Investors: Many early Angel and VC investors don’t get any recognition. Not only do these early investors put cash on the line to back the founders and business - but many times they are also providing coaching and consultative services as well. The best investors will step in and help when they know of a challenge ahead. The most valuable things an early investor could contribute to a startup are things like fundraising, post-round negotiation recommendations, employee talent scouting, and/or product/company evangelizing.

  • Network: All the successful people I know of have a deep network of people who care enough to give thoughts, advice, challenges, and recommendations. People in your network could be the catalyst behind your next customer, business partner, investor, or employee.

  • Mentors/Coaches: These individuals are typically the hired guns that founders bring into their inner circle to help them stay on track with business and personal objectives. This role can also be filled by an investor or someone within your network.

  • Family & Friends: These are, by far, the biggest unsung heroes of the startup world in terms of contribution. These are the people who become part of the startup team because of their relationships with team members and their desire to contribute and support the startup. Our team certainly draws help from family and friends on a daily basis. The biggest names that come to my mind are Rachel (aka my wife, aka expert editor), Špela (aka Simone’s girlfriend, aka legal advisor) and Elodie (aka Niels’ girlfriend, aka marketing evangelist). Many others come to mind but for the sake of this audience I will keep it to the MVPs who are closest to what I personally see most often.

While it’s sexy these days to point clearly at a single individual and their startup success, be sure to keep in mind that it took a village to raise that company. Think about who helped that startup team reach its potential. Then think about who is in your village who helps you in your business and personal goals. Lastly, ensure you stay mindful of the contributions others are making to your startup - being sure to thank the members of your village and giving back whenever possible.

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on Linkedin. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.


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