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Finding Winning Personalities for your Startup

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Serial entrepreneur Mac Lackey has had a lot of business partners--including someone who began with him as an intern. Most successful entrepreneurs have a lot of help, but how do they decide which potential employees, partners, and investors will spur their startup to success?

Lackey and other entrepreneurs discussed the topic at "Power to the Small," a panel discussion in Charlotte, North Carolina, sponsored by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions.

Investors: Commitment to winning

Lackey, who has started and sold five businesses, believes the overriding character trait of the people he wants to associate himself with is "a commitment to winning." When challenges arise it can be tempting to abandon ship, but for the truly determined, "no obstacle is going to prevent them from getting to the end line," he said.

With an early startup, he wants investors to understand that the chance of failure is higher than the chance of success. The final version of the company or product might be dramatically different from the vision that originally spurred it.

"You have to navigate through change and enjoy the journey," he said. "If this is an investor's first foray into a startup business, you need to have an important dialogue with them in order to align the vision and to point out the challenges that will inevitably arise."

He also stress tests both investors and partners, asking subtle questions to determine how they handle tense situations. He and his first business partner had an agreement that they could argue and fight about anything behind closed doors, but in public they were a unified front.

"I think healthy debate is critical to all startups and early-stage companies, but having respect for each other is essential," he says.

Partners: Finding your role

Jermaine Johnson founded No Grease barbershop with his twin brother Damian, but the two are far from identical when it comes to how they approach business.

"I'm very creative, and I have vision when it comes to marketing," Jermaine said. "He [Damian] wants to politic - shake hands and kiss babies. And that works for this industry."

Their personalities allowed them to fall naturally into their respective roles, and they continue to learn from those differences.

Charlie Mulligan founded Brewpublik, a company that uses a computer algorithm to help people pick out beer brands they will like. A balance of strengths and weaknesses is the reason he succeeds with his partner Samantha August, he says: She's conservative and detail-oriented, while he's a risk-taker. Those qualities allow them to check each other, by remaining open and honest.

"You have to be very forthright and say, 'I really think this is a terrible idea, and this is why,'" Mulligan said.

Employees: Engaging new hires with strong ideas

When Mulligan engages potential employees, strong ideas and a vision for his company are important. He begins by asking them the same question he poses to investors, to gauge the reaction: "Here's what we're going to do. Do you want to jump on board?"

Coming from a corporate background, he was used to behavioral interviews, which grill applicants on how they would deal with different scenarios. He rejects that approach, opting to instead engage applicants in informal conversation about his vision for the company.

"I've made the mistake in the past of hiring according to technical competency, but now I think the intangibles and commitment to the company are more important," Mulligan said. "I look for an interplay during the interview, where they are coming up with ideas--even if they're bad ideas."

During one such interview, an applicant spent 15 minutes explaining his own ideas of corporate culture.

"I happened to agree with him, but I would have hired him even if I didn't," Mulligan says. "If you've got the drive, we'll find a role for you."