What does it take to build an almost perfect startup? Behind every epic idea is a great team that know what it means to execute. You can’t achieve greatness without an amazing team.

“A ‘startup’ is a company that is confused about –What its product is. Who its customers are. And How to make money.” Dave McClure.

Considering that nothing is certain in startup, you want to put the best brains behind it to at least give it the best shot at success.

These are two of the best responses to this question on Quora: What is the perfect startup team?

1. Bill Gross, Founder and CEO of Idealab Incubator

“The elusive perfect startup. That is something I have been
trying to discover for more than 30 years and more than 100 startups!

I have not learned the answer, but here is what I have

The perfect startup needs a complementary team:

1. It needs a passionate and driven visionary who is the product person.

2. It needs a capable execution skill that can deliver the product or service against that vision.

3. It needs people skill to make sure that the best people are recruited and retained, and so that conflict in the company is resolved.

4. It needs administrative skill to make sure that as the company grows the wheels stay on (this skill can come a bit later – it’s not needed on day 1)

These skills do not need to be present in 4 distinct people, but most often it takes at least 2, and usually 3 or 4 to lead these areas.

Looking at the success factors in more than 100 companies I have been involved with, the strongest correlation to success has been the founding team – much more than the idea, or the amount of money raised, or almost anything else I can think of.  The best successes came when there were at least two strong people, with opposite but complementary skills, who had a great deal of mutual trust and respect for another.

That usually required significant previous experience and time together to build.  If I see I a complementary team like that, I would try to find almost any way to work with them because I feel the correlation with eventual success is so strong, particularly if they are open-minded to listen to the market and be ready for a business pivot.”

2. Saul KleinFounding team at Firefly (Microsoft); Co-Founder & CEO of Video Island which became Lovefilm; Exec Team at Skype (eBay); Founder of Seedcamp.

“My view is the Platonic startup has a founding team of a developer, a designer and a distributor.

The perfect startup has all three founders:

  • someone who understands how to build technologies and systems to solve problems;
  • someone who understands the human factors behind those problems, why they exist, what it takes to fix them and how to shape the experience;
  • someone who understands how to reach, talk to and sell to the people whose problems are being solved – and keep finding more of them

The ideal startup has two of the three founders, but all three skills are present between them.

Very few people have all three skills, and even if they come close, they are rarely in perfect balance. In modern business Steve Jobs is probably the only person who even comes close, which arguably took him 25+ years.

I have come to believe during my time as an operator, entrepreneur and investor that the balance of these skills is so important to the long-term health of a business that if balance is not achieved early then the impact later can be profound – sometimes terminal. You can argue that the DNA created by Microsoft’s over emphasis on distribution (Steve) and development (Bill), has ultimately cost it $50bn or more in lost revenue, market share and market capitalization. There are many more examples.

Developers have worn the crown for the last 30 or more years in the technology industry – rightly. They are indispensable and the foundation for success. It is right that Google and Facebook pride themselves on being engineering organizations (note – so did Microsoft).

But in the world following Jonathan Ive, designers are finally getting their due. It is interesting to see the emphasis that both Twitter and Quora have put on product design, not just engineering. It is also true that open source and the commoditization of many technologies has put much more emphasis on experience.

But although Sean EllisDave McClure and others are trying to put this right, of the three disciplines, the distributor is still the least appreciated skill.

Many of these differences are ingrained – some mentally, but mostly from our education systems which stream students early and don’t actively encourage the mixing of hard science, arts and commerce.

Smart teams understand quickly that all three skills are essential – if you can’t recognize the need, you won’t be able to hire for it or value it. So however big you become, you’re always storing up trouble for the more balanced insurgents.