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Oftentimes startups fail because of the wrong type of people mixed up together. Far too often startups are built out of group of friends, people who like working together, playing games together, drinking together and socialising together, not neccessarily playing well together. Far too often startups are formed these days because it’s fashionable, comfortable, and let’s be honest – easy to work with friends, who will cover up your mistakes, provide a helping hand whatever the situation. Friends are nice, but it’s a tough world out there you know and the market doesn’t care on the internal wiring of your office…

From the outset a team of friends might look like a perfect team. The work might progress smoother but oftentimes its going nowhere. Here’s why: a team of friends will do anything to avoid conflict, or change, because once anyone is comfortable, he or she avoids any change or conflict. Have you ever made a friend change anything dramatically or do you accept all of what they do because mutual acceptance lies at the heart of your friendship? The very reason you’re working with friends is because you don’t need to tell them to change, even though change is the very thing you should expect to happen all the time in any startup environment.

Despite that many teams carry on working on building up internal happiness levels and missing out on the external delivery. Basically more often than not, friends tend to focus on the team so much that they forget the product. The best ones turn out the best teams and no product at all. In the end friends tend to focus so heavily on team members and very little on company’s clients (unless all the clients are playground friends too, which is not uncommon). In most of the cases however you should never build a startup with your friends, and never with your partners. I’ve heard thousand stories and really done it myself. It’s always a question of choosing between: ruining your business or ruining your friendship (partnership, marriage).

Skip that and sooner or later any happy and cosy, all singing, all dancing team will focus on keeping the internal morale in sync, the progress at the pace of the slowest member, inevitably making the whole startup just slow and vulnerable. Soon they will face the competition of wolfes (self-centered, hungry bastards) who appear to seek out success at random and who just happen to work in pack. Wolfpacks operate together not because they’re like minded but precisely because they’ve got a particular ad-hoc interest in killing together. Hungry in, face of lack of other opportunities, would probably eat themselves, so they’re not the easiest to work with. Hungry combined with being lucky at finding other opportunities are deadily for any team of hippos, no matter how big ones.

The best teams therefore are just organised like ad-hoc groups of predators who, just like wolfes otherwise could operate solo. A pack of equally able (lucky), equally hungry (eager) is founded on a strong hierarchy and leadership, really: all round solo players. A team of all rounders can deploy any person to cover any area of responsibiliy at any time. Here for any member of the wolfpack means somehow pulling many different tricks done at the same time, covering many positions at the same time, and getting it done despite the odds of not being really the biggest animal in the jungle, not being the best in flying, swimming or best at any other particular trick. Still being hungry means looking out there for opportunities, and being lucky means catching most balls, most of the time.

Successful startups are all about all small team of rounders acting just like wolfpacks. You might tell because they don’t need to spend all the time together, they don’t have to hunt together and they definitely don’t spend all days just socialising, tapping each other on the back, eating, drinking (or sleeping together). Hell, you can be whatever animal you want to be, just focus on “hunting”, stay “hungry” and remain just “lucky”. The lucky one might lack any type of special skill but must definitely present a track record of survival and delivery of most balls back to the basket. How the hell he or she does that doesn’t matter: it’s counter-intuitive that they do, it’s against all odds, it’s magic somehow… or as I call it: luck. You shouldn’t care.

In this dog-eat-dog (or wolf-eat-wolf) environment working in a pack of all rounders, sometimes very different people indeed, bears many benefits, among them the most important being simplified logistics. Simplified logistics means as you don’t have to bounce, join and split the tasks between particular team members, coordinating a large team of “tools” good at doing one type of job and requiring a lot of coordination. Most of the startups can’t really afford the perfect, construction yard style planning, especially if they’re in the business of delivering value fast, delivering change more frequently than getting things perfectly organised around vertical silos. Sometimes you just need to stay alert, foolish indeed to spot and chase opportunities fast, sometimes making rapid changes.

Speaking from my own experience I’ve tried the both. In 2012 we’ve tried to create a booking service, keeping everyone in sync, everyone happy. We’ve ended up socialising, focusing on not hurting our feelings, with our bellies full of food and no product at the finishing line. Soon after, I’ve been leading another team, this time we haven’t had a single lunch or beer together before we’ve delivered. The product was all we wanted and more, plus went straight to customers after just few months of development. This was launched with great commercial success, even though there was nothing to tell us it will.

… Therefore the only people who can deliver this agility, and deliver the end product fast, are the lucky jacks of all trades, the all rounders, the pretenders, the hungry ones who’ve got the balls to dare. The ones who chase a bear alone and happen to work in pack.

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