How many team members do you need in a “kick-ass” startup team?

This question was asked on Quora.  Now there’s a startup for a great case study.  That aside, it is an interesting question. Should you go it alone or do you need a friend or two? And what are the skills that are critical to your startup success?

Interestingly, much of the opinion on this refers to tech startups.  Define tech company.  Most companies now have some sort of online presence, even if only on Facebook.  Whilst this doesn’t necessarily mean that your local fish and chip shop is a tech startup, the use of the Internet and social media in every day businesses means that tech is becoming as ubiquitous as having a telephone.  Maybe if more startups saw themselves as tech startups, they would be better equipped to maximise the opportunities that technology enables. 

3 – Hipster, Hacker, Hustler

Thank you Rei Inamoto for giving us the coolest names for anyone remotely involved in a startup. Who wouldn’t want to be one of the three H’s. Coined in 2012 at SXSW, the then Chief Creative Officer for AKQA explained that everyone needed one of these in their startup team.

  • Hipster – the person on the team who is so down with the kids they don’t even use the word cool, or phrases like down with the kids.  They bring their creative design genius to everything they touch.
  • Hacker – if you can think it, they can figure out how to do it.  Not a hacker in the literal sense but it probably doesn’t hurt if they know how to breach the firewalls of a government agency for fun, of course.
  • Hustler – the wheeler dealer who could sell snow to eskimos.  They make sure that what’s made will have a customer and turn a profit.

If you’re a one-man or woman startup then you are probably doing a bit of all of the above at the moment, which is no bad thing.  Hey, Daniel Bedignfield, wrote, sang and produced the platinum selling Gotta Get Thru This in his bedroom with just a mic and a PC.


4 – Throw in a Visionary

Sometimes called the dreamer, this is the person who has assessed the market, emerging trends, and figured out how to disrupt and outperform the competition.

6 – Add a Leader and a Veteran

Bernd Schoner, in The Tech Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide, outlines six personalities or traits that he insists are necessary for start-up success.  Most of them are already covered in some form by the previous 4 people.  The two completely new roles in Schoner’s dream team are the Leader, the one who gets to call the shots and the Veteran, someone who has been around the block a few times and can bring their past lessons learnt.

At 6, this is less of a startup team and more like a committee.  And committees are not known for getting things done.  Schoner does caveat the long list by stating that some of these traits are often found in the same person.

3 Critical Skills

More important than the number of people around the kitchen table, is that a startup has access to the core skills that every young business needs, whether these come from one person or three.  If you assume that somebody already has the idea for the product, then in very simple terms you need:

  • Creative marketing – someone has to figure out how to get customers to buy into the awesome idea.  Many great products have failed to get traction due to poor marketing.
  • Technology – virtually every business needs a website, internet platform or social media presence as a minimum.  If you don’t have these skills in-house you will have to outsource them, which can be costly and risky.
  • Financial nouse – you don’t need to be an accountant but someone needs to be able to figure out whether the numbers stack up and how to get started without running out of cash.


History has taught us that there is no perfect number.  Some companies have been founded successfully by a solo rider – Facebook (discuss).  Other giants of the past – Google, Apple, Microsoft – had a simple twosome of product guy and marketing visionary.

Our advice is to ditch the quorum.  If you can get a hard-working team that gets things done, with a good sprinkling of these vital skills, different personalities and preferences, you stand a good chance of making startup magic whatever the number.