Do you really need a superstar executive team for your startup?

A startup needs a small, lean team where every person can perform some key aspect of product development. This lets you get to market cheap and fast. What you don’t need in the startup stages is a superstar CxO team (CEO, COO, CFO, CxO).

Why? Several reasons:

  1. High level executives are used to directing, overseeing, and building teams of people around them. They don’t usually do the actual work. I once hired a “Marketing VP” in one of my small companies, assuming she would do it all and save me money, but I quickly found out that she herself couldn’t really do the work and was used to having the “Agency” get the job done. I got far less than what I needed but it cost me way more.
  2. CxOs don’t *really* want to do a startup, blood-sweat-tears-wise. They want to leverage their contacts and experience and direct *everyone else* to get the work done. This is a very needed skill, later on in the game, but not at the very beginning.
  3. CxOs want (and perhaps deserve) to get paid a lot, but your company might be too small or to nascent to take advantage of what they can really do. It’s like using a steam shovel to dig a small hole. Sure, you can do it, but you could have also dug that same hole with a hand-held shovel that’s sitting in your garage.
  4. True CxOs consider themselves mercenaries, and if the tide turns the wrong way, very little holds them back from jumping ship. I remember talking to a potential strategic buyer one day who was super proud of this awesome Fortune 1000 CEO he had hired, only to see the shiny new executive leave the company holding the bag less than a year later.
  5. If it’s your startup, remember, it’s really up to you and your small band of brothers to get the job done in the early stages. Get your product up and running with some customers and ideally some revenue. Then get a *list* of potential CxO candidates who are interested so that when you start building up relationships with your investors, you’ll still be lean and mean, yet have a pool of talent you can pull from when you need to.

    Thanks to Ed Sim’s “Top-heavy teams” which motivated me to write mine.