Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

Building a First Class Executive Team Requires Objective Focus and Sometimes Tough Decisions

Beyond the investment opportunity, venture capitalists evaluate the start-up company’s executive team when making their decision to invest in an early stage company.  This is the first thing they consider, once they determine the investment opportunity has merit.  It is often said that venture capitalists invest in “the team”, as they would rather have an ‘A-team’ and a ‘B-product’ than a ‘B-team’ and an A-product’.  Therefore, when developing an executive team for your start-up company, as an entrepreneur, you need to be very careful.  This is not a “friends-based” decision. It requires objective focus, as to get to where you need to be requires an executive team that has proven experience in the business area your start-up company is focusing on, has the ability to make prudent business decisions, and can execute at a high-level in both good times and in bad.  Also, in some instances, it requires the founder to make tough decisions and release certain individuals, as some executive team members may not work out in the long run. This article outlines some of the things that need to be addressed by entrepreneurs as you are building a first class executive team for your start-up company.

Executive Team – The Beginning

Start-up companies usually begin with an executive team that is composed of individuals that in their careers have worked together at one point in time or another.  More often than not, one individual comes up with an “idea” or “concept” and passes this by one of his friends, usually a business or technical colleague.  With this “idea”, these individuals decide to move forward and develop a start-up company.  Many times, neither of these same individuals have had any experience in starting a company, or for that matter running and managing a business.  But, they give themselves lofty titles, (CEO, CTO, and Vice President of Business Development) and are off to the races.   Often this same initial executive team consists of a technical person and a business or marketing person.  These two individuals, if they have the proper backgrounds, although not a complete team can take the start-up company quite far in developing an initial “idea” into a value added business proposition.  On the other hand, if these same individuals lack the proper background, experience and focus, they often just spin their wheels trying to decide how to move the company forward. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, if you are starting a company look objectively at what you are trying to accomplish and do not build your executive team with “friends”, but with first class individuals that have the necessary and proven experience and ability to move your start-up company forward to the next level, securing funding.  If you do not, investors usually pass on your company as they will not risk their money on executive teams with no or little experience.  Remember, investors are looking to secure a substantial return on their investment and cannot afford to risk their monies on unproven and inexperienced executive teams.

Executive Team – Must Consist of Members that Contribute

Start-up companies need to accomplish many things with very little resources. Often the only real things they have are a “good” business proposition and a talented executive team.  As such, from the beginning, all executive team members must step up and contribute at a high level.  As with all teams, the complementary backgrounds and skill sets of the individual team members are necessary to put together a compelling business plan and associated value proposition that will provide a sustainable competitive advantage in the market.  Anything less will not suffice.  Therefore, each executive team member must commit themselves and their time and effort to achieving their near term goal of securing venture funding. If individual executive team members do not have the time or the necessary commitment to achieve this objective, then they need to be let go and this often requires making tough decisions by the founder and/or CEO of the company.  Remember, securing venture capital is serious business and requires both commitment and significant contribution from all the members of your start-up company’s executive team. If you do not get rid of “slackers” your investors will once they make a decision to invest.  Also, it is better to make these tough decisions early, as non-contributors more often than not have an adverse affect on the whole team, and in some instances can derail the whole start-up company.  So, recognize this and build a strong, first class team, with individuals that have the willingness and desire to contribute in the effort and objective of securing funding.

Executive Team – Filling In the Holes

A start-up company’s executive team is almost always often incomplete.  That is, your start-up company may be missing several executive team members or just a have a couple key executive positions that need to be filled.  So, while you are building your start-up company, it is smart to keep your eyes open to new and talented executives that can fill in these holes in your executive staff, and at the same time help your start-up company to achieve both its business and technical objectives.  These individuals are often hard to find, but can make an immediate and substantial impact, and at the same time be a key to achieving some important near term corporate objectives.  Hence, by doing so, these same individuals can also heuristically move your start-up company forward in the venture funding process.  Finally, it should be remembered that venture capitalists do not necessarily require a full executive team to invest in your start-up company.  Consequently, these same venture capitalists would rather have a strong, incomplete and first class team that they can help develop with their contact base, than a complete team with questionable individual, executive team members. 

Building a strong, first class executive team often makes the difference between a start-up company securing and not securing venture funding. So, as an entrepreneur, you need to be aware that initially building your executive staff with “friends” is not necessarily a smart move.  Often it is smarter to wait and build an executive staff with key individuals that can have a substantial impact and at the same time help your start-up company to meet its goals and objectives.  If you do not take an objective and focused approach to building your team, you will often have to make tough decisions later on to get rid of these same executive team members, as non-contributors or sub-par talent will not allow your start-up company to grow to its potential. Finally, remember you do not have to have a complete executive staff to secure venture funding, so focus on developing the best first in class team you can find.  This will serve your start-up company well in the long run.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

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November 30, 2009 - Posted by | Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the great post, it brings back memories….

    On your contribute section, I would add a twist: – Can they contribute together as a team? I have seen exec. teams fail because they cannot operate together as a team or one person rules and the others follow.

    Comment by sparkpilot | November 30, 2009 | Reply


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