Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed nearly 100 entrepreneurs on my podcast Crossing Borders about their experiences doing business in and across Latin America.
I always ask them to offer their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, and one topic that comes up often is how they create a team that drives their companies to succeed. It takes time and effort to find the right people who fit your company culture and can meet a startup’s needs.
So I decided to round up the best advice on finding, building, and maintaining a successful startup team from these entrepreneurs. Check out their advice below.
1. Hire people who fit your company culture
Komal Dadlani, the founder of Chilean science education startup Lab4U, says that when they were starting out they made the mistake of hiring “senior executives” that were not ready to sell a scrappy startup product. As a result, she found herself handling most of the sales, and paying a high price for experienced workers who weren’t meeting the company’s needs and weren’t a great fit for the company culture.
Instead, she advises not to be dazzled by years of experience. In an early-stage startup with a small team, every person needs to pull their weight. It’s important to look for people who are a good cultural fit, and who are willing to do any task – big or small – to get the job done.
2. Facilitate growth with an international team
Many startups aim to expand internationally, which logistically only gets easier as technology advances, and a diverse team can help facilitate that process.
Founder Daniel Undurraga has a great deal of experience growing across markets. Undurraga is a lifelong entrepreneur and launched his most recent company, the grocery delivery startup, Cornershop, in both Chile and Mexico simultaneously to set the stage for growth.
Daniel recommends making sure you set up your team to anticipate that growth. “It is important to have an international team with many different perspectives. Each person will lend something to the project, with regards to approaching different markets and having a more global outlook,” he says.
3. Stand by your company culture
Startups by nature are mercurial: they pivot, grow, and evolve at a rapid pace in which every new development is a significant one. So what keeps a company together through all these changes?
That’s where company culture comes in, according to Brian Requarth, founder of Brazilian real estate startup, VivaReal. Building from a solid foundation and a shared company culture helps companies as they scale, he says. It also helps keep new strategies aligned with core values across multiple locations and offices.
4. Create a supportive environment
Starting and running a company is a challenging and intimidating experience, and there will always be people who doubt you.
Marta Forero, a co-founder of Colombian education platform, Ubits, experienced this acutely as a female founder of a tech startup. There were times, she says, when people questioned her abilities and told her she’d be better off in a more “traditional” job. Other times, she was the only woman in the room and had to work harder than the rest to prove herself.
One thing that helped her to be successful was to surround herself with supportive people who believed in her and gave her good, constructive advice.
“Seek out role models, and be role models for others,” she says. Her advice, though especially directed at women, is applicable to everyone, and is the foundation for building a solid team.
5. Get some prior experience before branching out on your own
The startup environment is all about learning by doing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go in blind. Every startup is different, but many of the challenges companies face are shared ones across industries.
Brian York is one of the founders of the Colombian B2B transport startup, Liftit. According to York, joining a startup before starting your own is a great way to get experience across multiple areas of a business and get a feel for the team dynamics that make a successful company. Then, he says, when you launch your own startup, you can put those insights into practice with your own team.
6. Industry knowledge is essential
When building out your team, it’s important not to underestimate industry experience.
Mike Packer is a venture capitalist at QED Investors who works with many startup teams. Based on his experience, he says bringing people on board who have prior knowledge of the industry is essential, provides significant insights, and helps teams to make informed and smart decisions.
7. Have a plan for growing your team
The startup life is a fast-paced one, and it’s easy to get caught reacting to needs instead of anticipating them.
Federico Vega experienced this with his Brazil-based transport startup, CargoX, saying, “We had numerous problems with funding and cash flow over the first few years. Because of this, we would hire people, and not long after, run out of money, and have to fire them.”
Hiring people and getting them trained and up-to-speed is an investment of both time and money and not one to take lightly. They learned their lesson, though, and when they next found themselves in a stable position for growth, they approached it differently. The next time, Vega says, “We knew the best ways to optimize growth, and we had formulated detailed proposals on scaling; knowing who to hire and what to hire them for. It is essential to have a strategic logistical diagnosis in place when growing your team.”
8. Trust your team
As a founder, your startup is your baby, and you want to make sure anyone you bring on board is going to act with the care and judgment that you would. The division of responsibilities is what makes a team function, and a company successful.
Pierpaolo Barbieri, founder of Argentina’s fintech startup, Ualá, advises, “ Don’t rush, take your time, and trust your team. Let people work at their own pace as things always take longer when your innovating….be a point of reference and guidance the whole way.” You’ll inevitably have to deal with some curveballs as a startup, but with a strong team you can handle whatever is thrown your way.
9. Give your team what they need to excel
Understand the talent in your team and enable them to excel. This straightforward recommendation from Fabricio Bloisi sums it up: cultivating talent on your team is key.
Recognizing team members’ interests and abilities, providing growth opportunities, and creating an environment of collaboration helped Bloisi create his Brazilian mobile unicorn, Movile. Founded in 1998, Movile has expanded across Latin America, and into the US and France. One of his keys to success is to cultivate the talent on his team.
10. Pick a co-founder with complementary skills
Leadership can make or break a company, so if you’re going to go into business with someone, you want to make sure they’re the right person.
Maricel Senz, co-founder of the biotech platform, Nextbiotics, says the key to her success with co-founder Jorge Bordales was their complementary skill sets and their communication. In the beginning, it was difficult, she said. “We are very different, and it took us some time to understand how to communicate efficiently. Now at the beginning of the week, we set an agenda and take notes on the decisions that we make. Writing down what we agree on has helped us speed up how we make decisions.”
It takes time and consideration to find the right people who fit your company culture and meet company needs. Once you’ve put together a good team, the work isn’t over: cultivating and maintaining a strong team is a continuous job. Good companies, however, are the product of great teams, so the effort is worth it.