From the Desk (and Mind) of Marc Landsberg

Start-Up Teams

I read a great blog post in Mashable yesterday – an interview with Lynn LeBlanc, CEO of Hotlink. The article discusses the merits of launching a start-up with a known team, a team that has all of the necessary functional skills, knows each other from a prior life, and can work for a limited salary at first. Lynn is a highly successful CEO and entrepreneur, and especially for tech product companies, her advice is excellent:

My experience launching socialdeviant has been a little different. For starters, we’re in a services business – social media strategy and creative development for big brands – so no doubt, the business dynamics are distinct from the launch of a software platform. And, granted, I launched this business at age 50, bringing my experience, contacts, and perspective to the table from day one. So here’s what we did:

1. We Launched with No Leadership Team – day one, I hired two highly talented, but reasonably junior, millenials. My goal was simple – take on payroll costs day one, as a supreme motivator to find revenue as quickly as possible, and ensure that we could deliver on our first client assignment. No more, no less – I wasn’t building a leadership team that could take us to the next plateau of growth, but instead, a team that could deliver right here right now

2. We Overpaid for Talent – my approach was the opposite of most start-ups. Instead of asking folks to take a haircut in current compensation in exchange for a great start-up experience and a boatload of options, I overpaid. I built in a risk-adjusted start-up premium, and in every case, hired great talent well above their current wage, complete with sign-on and year-end bonuses. Because for millennial talent (and for us all, really), a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, and because so few start-ups ever really achieve a significant exit in which options have real value, we made the decision to put our focus on current compensation

3. We Didn’t Know Each Other – I screened for discrete skills, to be sure, but more than anything, I screened for fit. Building the world’s kindest company takes a special kind of talent – one that trusts, listens, learns, collaborates, strives, and above all, does. We are a team of doers and makers, not managers and bosses. Sometimes, I’ve seen the pitfalls of “getting the band back together.” Indeed, working with someone you know has many advantages – you can move faster, trust is already there, and so on. But building a team from scratch has enabled us to shape our own culture, our own habits, our own experiences, our own shared history. Seldom do you see or hear our team members talking about the good ‘ol days. Instead, we talk about the amazing today and the better tomorrow.

The results? So far, so good. We’re just two years old, and already have 5 AOR relationships (ranging from MillerCoors Leinenkugel’s Brand to Farmers Insurance), 10 more clients we do project work for (including P&G, American Airlines, and Twitter), 20+ members of the team by latest count, and are growing faster than we ever imagined. So if you’re ever in Chicago, do stop by our River West loft offices – and we’ll chat start-up strategy or just share some pizza and grab a beer from the fridge.


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