“The strength of the team is each individual member; the strength of each member is the team.” - Phil Jackson.
The concept of a dream team applies to more than professional sports. There’s a reason actors with good chemistry collaborate again and again - Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau, Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence, Paul Newman & Robert Redford...I could go on. And in entrepreneurship, there are multiple cases of partnerships and teams that seem to migrate together again and again to produce repeated success. While there isn’t some magic formula, it’s worth noting that maintaining a disruptive team that transcends a project is advantageous to investors, to marketplaces, and to employees who experience the contradiction of entrepreneurial job security.
I interviewed three such teams to find out how winning teams consistently break into industries and outpace the competition:
Winning teams set simple, clear goals and attack
Simplicity is key when developing a strategy to disrupt an industry. Enter Joe Wang, a serial CEO, and his right-hand man Dave R Taylor, a key executive in multiple successful ventures that have dynamically converged across organizations and two decades of tech, have built LANDesk, WatchGuard Technologies, and now Impartner, a partner relationship management (PRM) company. By investing in their own business ventures before seeking any outside investment, employing winning teammates, setting high goals, setting standards that exceed industry averages, and following a clear strategy, this team scores a win every time – and who doesn’t want to be on a winning team? Currently, 29 percent of Impartner’s all-star team has worked together at one of Wang’s previous companies.
“You can only see so much in an interview,” Wang said. “When you already know the strengths and weaknesses and how you work together, you can cherry pick and mix and match and move more quickly.”
The Impartner team sets high expectations and lofty goals, but employees don’t mind--because they’re succeeding. “We wake up markets. We get inside competitors’ heads, and we cause a ruckus in the market and wake up segments,” Wang said. “We did that at LANDesk, WatchGuard, and now here at Impartner.” In fact, in the last year alone, Impartner has increased customer acquisition by 156 percent, slashed customer churn by 42 percent, doubled its staff and won 20 national and international awards.
Wang’s companies always grow at rates that exceed industry averages. According to Wang, the aggressive growth rate is a key figure in their business strategy even during slower times, because it gives employees and investors a more accurate representation of the industry as a whole. “We set the bar really high,” Wang said. “In a past company, seventy to eighty percent of the time, we didn’t achieve quota. However, what we were always able to articulate was that we were growing faster than the industry rate.” This helps employees remain motivated even when they are disappointed with their performance.
Wang also believes firmly in simplicity, clarity, and repetition. He focuses on one message per quarter and drives it home at every available moment. “As the company grows larger,” he said, “it becomes even more necessary to make sure the message is simple.” This strategy has served Wang and his numerous companies well.
Self-funding allows you to remain in control of your destiny
Starting a new venture and deciding how to fund it can be daunting. Teaming with the right people can ameliorate that anxiety. When entrepreneur Tyler Whitaker needed an experienced CEO to run a new venture in 2010, there was only one name that came to mind – Keith Barr. The two had worked side-by-side leading several other companies to great success, including Sento and Echopass, and while they were both working on other projects, the timing was right to bring the winning team back together to launch Leading2Lean.
“Through the years, we’ve developed a great understanding of each other,” said Whitaker, who is now both the COO and CTO of Leading2Lean, a cloud-based lean manufacturing operations management software company. “We read each other’s minds and have developed a level of trust and communications – a shorthand of shared stories, if you will – that makes it easy to run fast with a new company and know exactly what the right move might be.”
While their previously successful companies had some level of outside investment, Whitaker and Barr agreed to bootstrap Leading2Lean.
“Taking money when appropriate makes a lot of sense, but self-funding the company lets you control your own destiny,” Whitaker said. “When bootstrapping, you have fewer outside influences, which helps you stay focused on growing the business. If you are living and dying by actual revenue coming in from customers, you prioritize things that drive revenue rather than things that might not be as important if you have money to spend.”
Understanding when it’s appropriate to bootstrap and when not to, is essential. It boils down to understanding and mitigating the risk of being beholden to outside influences as much as possible for your venture.
Whitaker and Barr have strengths that compliment each other, so their responsibilities don’t overlap. “We are able to turn our backs on each other – meaning one of us fights the external battles and the other works with the inside ones,” he said.
Perseverance is another key trait of most any team of successful entrepreneurs, and this perseverance is especially strong in Whitaker and Barr. “We don’t take no for an answer,” Whitaker said. “We see obstacles as something you can get around. We change the rules of the game to solve problems. You simply can’t be rigid in your thinking.”
Leverage complimentary skill sets in your team
Monnit founder and CEO Brad Walters, a 2016 recipient of the Entrepreneur Legacy Award - sticks to the industries and people he knows best, and adds new capabilities and resources as he recognizes the need.
“The phrase ‘stick to your knitting’ definitely applies to serial entrepreneurship,” said Walters, who was the president and CEO of MaxStream until selling the wireless machine-to-machine communications company in 2006. “Before launching Monnit, for example, we asked previous customers what the MaxStream product was missing and got the same answer from each: sensors. Once we developed these sensors, we had a ready and eager customer base, which has continued to grow remarkably ever since.”
One of the people Walters has stuck with for the long haul is Nick Mecham, who he met more than 20 years ago while they were both working at Caldera Systems. They moved together to Lineo, and then when Walters founded MaxStream in 2000, Mecham joined him as VP of business development. The two continued to work together for nearly a year after MaxStream was sold, and then joined back up with Monnit in 2009, with Walters as CEO and Mecham as executive vice president.
“Nick and I have complimentary differences that make each other stronger – and that makes our business stronger,” Walters said. “I’m the business guy and he’s the relationship guy who builds trust and rapport. I set the company culture of hard work and life balance with my type A personality, but Nick leads the culture by example, and as a result, we succeed as a team and as a company.”
Simply emulating a successful business model won’t lead to a successful venture. At most it will only achieve competitive parity with your rivals. However, by diving deep into what makes your business valuable and leveraging the lessons of surrounding yourself with a competitive and proven team, investing in your own company, setting ambitious goals, establishing a winning culture and keeping things simple, clear and competitive, your own team will achieve winning results.