Business

Building a startup can take teamwork

There’s no mistaking it — entrepreneurship is hot. Regardless of age or resume, it seems everywhere you turn a friend, colleague, or family member has registered a domain and is ready to take the plunge into the exciting, if not turbulent, waters of starting a company. Students who once looked to Wall Street or a steady 9-5 at a large company are now flocking to Silicon Valley, Boston, or another startup hub in search of success in the new economy.

A brave few go it alone. To all of you, good luck. I need not regale you with the statistics on failure rates. It isn’t pretty. But if your Wonka Bar does in fact end up bearing a golden ticket, it’s the most sublime moment one can experience in professional life.

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Should you take the leap, one of the most important decisions you can make is who to leap with, if anyone. In no way does having a running mate guarantee success, just as going “Kerouac” on your lonesome beget failure. Having someone by your side can be quite like a marriage. And you should approach it like such. But in my experience, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

I’ve started two companies, both with the same cofounder. I’ve also advised more than 30 companies and invested in 20 as an angel. In the past five years, I’ve had myriad conversations with a diverse group of people involved in the innovation economy. What I’ve learned is that there are certain archetypes that seemed better suited to founding teams than others. I’ve asked three of Boston’s most well-known and successful technology-focused venture capitalists to proffer their opinions on the subject. Here are their responses:

Rich Miner

Rich Miner, general partner, Google Ventures; investor in Tamr, Toast, Recorded Future, LevelUp, Adelphic

What do you look for in a founding team?

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We look for bright founders balanced with good common sense. Domain expertise can be helpful, whether it come from an academic pursuit or a marketplace one. Lastly, we put a lot of value in repeat founders that have had success in the past.

What would you consider to be the perfect number of founders for a company?

There really is no perfect number. I’d say that N has to be greater than one but less than five. We look for complementary skills. If the team has worked together before, that’s great, too. Although rare, we’d ideally have a group that has someone with a strong product sense in addition to a person with deep technical expertise.

Can you give me an example of a team you’ve recently funded that excites you?

You can’t find a much better team than the founding group at Tamr. Mike Stonebraker has had numerous and successive wins and is just a brilliant technical and mathematical mind. His cofounder Andy Palmer, whom he’s worked with in the past, is stellar with the product and team-building functions of the company. They really are a combinatory force with which to be reckoned.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Jeff Fagnan

Jeff Fagnan, founding partner, Accomplice; investor in AngelList, Carbon Black, Veracode, DataXu, InsightSquared

What do you look for in a founding team?

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People that absolutely NEED to solve a problem or fix an issue in an area in which they are deeply acquainted and passionate about. We don’t look for founders that are just looking to make a lot of money.

We also will bank heavily on those having a superpower. Meaning, is this person a savant, verging on pathologically good at one particular skill. Jason Robins and the team at DraftKings, for example, are geniuses at online customer acquisition. Naval [Ravikant] at AngelList is the most amazing evangelist. Stuff like that.

What would you consider to be the perfect number of founders for a company?

I like three because I assume that one won’t work out [laughs]. Ideally, there should be a great product person, a great engineer or builder, and a great business person or evangelist for the company. But we’ve funded one person. Rarely will we fund a team of more than four, however. Too many cooks.

Can you give me an example of a team you’ve recently funded that excites you?

The folks at FreeBird fit the bill here. Ethan [Bernstein], the CEO, is extremely lasered in on how the airlines have been screwing people for years, having spent time at Expedia. He’s on a mission. Sam [Zimmerman], the CTO, has a superpower in machine learning and tech. They’re a great combination and fit really well together.

Chip Hazard.

Chip Hazard, general partner, Flybridge Capital Partners; investor in MongoDB, Nasuni, Digital Lumens, Crashlytics

What do you look for in a founding team?

We see it like a cauldron. Different ingredients making for the greatest recipe. We keep a list of attractive traits here actually. A unique point of view on a market or problem, a healthy dose of passion combined with a chip on one’s shoulder, the ability to hire and be a pied piper, and the right level of reality distortion are some of the things we look for.

What would you consider to be the perfect number of founders for a company?

Two. One is too hard and lonely. With two people, you can have shared objectives, vision, mission, drive, and work ethic while also having the ability to constantly bounce ideas off each other collaboratively. With more than two, unless you’re forklifting an experienced team out of a company, you’ll end up with inexperience in working together and too much forced compromise.

Can you give me an example of a team you’ve recently funded that excites you?

Crashlytics has always come to mind with me. Jeff [Seibert] and Wayne [Chang] were so very complementary to one another. Jeff was this thoughtful, kind of quiet guy that was just the best in the world at product and on the tech side. Wayne was a bit more aggressive and understood customers, and how to delight them and grow the business. They were a perfect pair.

‘Passion combined with a chip on one’s shoulder, the ability to hire and be a pied piper, and the right level of reality distortion are some of the things we look for.’

Chip Hazard,  general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners
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Now, I do not want to assert that these are the only ways to build a great company. That’d go square in the face of the basic tenets of entrepreneurship: be a pirate; take the road less traveled. But hopefully it does provide you with a potential step up in starting. And should you decide to pass through the looking glass, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Phil Beauregard is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and angel investor based in Boston. He was the founder of Rekindle Inc. and Objective Logisitics.

Earlier versions of this story misspelled the name of Tamr cofounder Mike Stonebraker.

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