How to Build a Great Team with Limited Funds


It's tougher than ever to be an entrepreneur, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

In a way, this might be the best time to try, because so many others are so woefully discouraged against trying themselves.

Look, everyone's gonna have lean times. It's just part of life. But if you want to test your mettle and chase your dreams, what are you waiting for?

Part of what unites many people right now is that we're all struggling. You can start a business to hopefully build a better tomorrow (that will likely arrive in a couple years), but you can't do it alone. You're gonna need a team of co-workers and maybe even co-founders to help make your dream a reality. And you don't necessarily need a lot of money to do it. StoryMix Media CEO Mike Fisher – his company's service provides an easy, affordable way to share videos culled from different sources to create a single story – shared his perspective on how to pull of this hat-trick without having to eat your hat.

Is it possible to get a great team, and not just a decent one, on little money?

Mike Fisher: Yeah, I think it is. I didn't say a great big team, I said a great time. Obviously, there's a difference.

So what size are you talking here?

Mike Fisher: Under 10. Well, the first thing is you have to be able to sell the dream of your company and the vision of where you're gonna go. There's a lot of different things you need to understand. But the first thing, and one of the things that as a CEO at a startup I had to understand is you have to align the incentives and how you treat people with what motivates them. So, first of all, you've got a vision you're trying to move to the company to and things that excite you about the business may not be exactly what motivates someone else. It's important to understand each person that you bring in and what's important to them and what's going to make them happy about the job that they're doing. It's kind of getting ahead of how you bring them in, but the first thing is you have to sell your company.

One thing for sure is you don't want to be taking a salary on whatever small revenues and you have the lion's share of equity and you're just asking people to work for free. You treat your employees better, if possible. If you have enough money, you pay them first. You give them the benefits. You go out and buy the iPhone while you have an old cruddy Android or something like that. It's about making sure that they know you're in it and you're struggling and you're doing what it takes to make the business succeed and that you're going to take care of them at every opportunity that you can.

You've also gotta make your story believable. They need to know there's a chance of success. Obviously, most companies start out small. It's going to be just you and maybe one other founder and your initial team. You want to have some success, right? You want to have some first victories that you can point to, whether it's a customer, an investor, whatever it is that shows someone who's coming on and willing to make that commitment – potentially they're leaving a steady job and a steady income, that this really could happen. I think one of the big things to do, that I really advocate, is getting your company in an incubator. That opens up so many doors and it shows anyone who's thinking of working for you that someone else who's smart agrees that your company has a chance for success. If they see that, they're going to be much more attracted and believe that this business could actually make it.

How about the logistics of actually finding people?

Mike Fisher: It can be tough. Especially if you're looking for a technical co-founder. In Chicago, there's probably 10 business-type guys for everyone one technical person. I don't have the magic bullet on that one.

I don't know if there is one.

Mike Fisher: We tried to find a technical co-founder in Chicago and we were in the incubator in Austin last summer, and that's where we found our technical co-founder. Part of the reason we found them is because we were in an incubator, and the network that you get as part of being in the incubator was going to exponentially help your chances of contact, connections and they can cast a wide net. The other obvious thing is to network.

Business guys need to go to techie-type meet-ups, events, meetings to find these guys. That's where they're gonna be. You don't want to go to the same old networking events where there's other founders and business guys. Tech guys aren't gonna be there. You need to go to the developer meetings where the tech guys are gonna be. At a lot of those meetings they'll let you say, "Hey, I'm looking for someone on my team." Networking and getting to know someone beforehand is a big key because it's not just a matter of finding someone. You want to find a great fit. That's the whole point to building a great team. Hiring the wrong person can be absolutely deadly for your business.

Let's say you found the right person. How do you suss out what motivates them? Do you literally come out and ask them?

Mike Fisher: One of the things that we've observed is that after making a lot of bad choices on people that we've either brought in as contractors or tried to bring in on our team, the No. 1 thing is before you commit you want to date, so to speak. So, what we've learned and what's worked out well for us is before, you say, "Okay, we're bringing you on, we're giving you equity, we're gonna pay you a small amount. Let's set up some tasks that you can do and we'll pay you a small amount. We'll do something fair. We're gonna give you four, five things that we think are not major but let us both see if we work well together, how good your performance is and then take it from there."

You want both sides to have this opportunity because you don't want to bring someone on who's not compatible with the team and you don't want someone who feels that they don't fit well, because they're not gonna be motivated, they're not gonna be happy. If you can set up a technical person, give them a few codes or something specific to work on. It's better to do that in the trial period than after you've written the terms and they've got equity and all that mess you have to try to get out of afterwards.

The thing is, people get desperate. You're a small business. You're a startup. You've only got a few people. You're getting busy. You've got all these things and it's easy just to say, "I gotta bring someone in to do these tasks right now." That's where you end up making irrational decisions and you bring in the wrong person. It's really important to step back and find the right person.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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