Sunday, March 17, 2013

What's more important, great product or great team?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to talk to a product manager at a partner company.  We were having a casual dinner and talking about different topics.  One of the topics was about launching a startup.  She had thought about launching her own startup and she mentioned that she didn't have a concrete product idea yet. She felt that identifying a worthwhile problem to solve and coming up with a solution was where startup got founded.  She wanted to find a problem that was socially responsible as well as personally interesting as studying impacts of global warming on ocean life.

That's great, I thought.  Finding meaning in one's work is important to persist through all the trials and tribulations.  It is also true that identifying a problem that is worth solving is an important step in creating a startup.  But there is more important piece.  That's putting together a right team.

I'm utterly convinced that startup lives or dies by its founding team members.  By founding team members, I mean the co-founder(s) and the half a dozen employees who join the team at the early stage.  It is arguably more important than figuring out the product-market fit, and it's definitely more important than deciding what  problem startup is solving.

Why do I think that?  That's because people make products, but products don't make people.

Unlike chicken-and-egg problem, product starts from concept and continuous iteration, and they are executed by the team.  Startup founder is not only creating a product, but along the way has to create a team (at one point or another during the startup life cycle).  Having a dysfunctional and unhealthy team environment creates drag for the entire organization and it can even kill the startup no matter how right the product-market fit is.

And guess what the team is built upon.  It's built on shared strong values.  Something that gives purpose to the entire organization and makes it a great place to work.  If you think about what makes you tick, it really has very little to do with what you do day to day.  Instead, it is a philosophy on life, a core belief that gives meaning to your life.  It doesn't really matter what product that you work on, or what market the startup is going after.  It's the shared value that holds people together.

Therefore, the most important thing is the team and the core value.  If you want to build a lasting startup, founders must stop and think about what values the startup should aspire to.

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