Known as the Nobel prize for students and the dream of young aspiring social entrepreneurs, the Hult Prize has made a name for itself for being the most attractive student competition of the year. With the promise of being catapulted towards a life of self-employment and social impact, 300,000 students from all over the world come together to dream, envision, and execute business ventures that address the most pressing environmental and social issues. This past 2020 was no exception, despite the pandemic, as the Hult Prize movement led to the creation of hundreds of concepts, relationships, and businesses that address a diverse range of environmental issues.
Among these was your Hult International Business School’s team, KASHEW, who finally managed to break the spell and make it through the global finals. We are proud to announce that KASHEW has been selected as one of the recipients of the Hult Prize seed capital investment. With that, we would like to welcome you to our three-part blog series where we will share our learnings and experience so that you can commence the Hult Prize journey with a head start.
In these three posts, we’ll first talk about the importance of the right team, second we’ll shine a light on our Hult Prize journey, and last but not least we’ll share all the tips and tricks that we have learned to deliver a bomb pitch!
It’s all about the team
Yes, your management professor was right when they said: “It’s all about the team”. The first crucial step when beginning your entrepreneurial journey is bringing the right people together to get the job done. We can confidently say that if you mess this up, you can forget the rest.
We’ll first cover the basics of how to build the core team. We will then venture into a couple of pointers for when you will be expanding and growing. Let’s dive right in:
The core team
1.Choose friends, not strangers. For some inexplicable reason, students tend to make the mistake of teaming up with strangers more often than not. It is strongly unrecommended to tie yourself up with someone whom you don’t have past history with. Not only will you be spending a lot of time with your co-founders, but you will also experience quite trying situations. Having the kind of support and trust that comes with a friendship will help you go a long way. In addition, some people are simply not made for each other, and some relationships will not work. Past experience will allow you to predict future success for the team, so choose wisely, my friend.
2. Define and communicate your “why”. Do you want to dedicate the next 10 years to solving the problem you are addressing? If the answer is “NO”, then stop reading and go find what moves you. For a startup to work you need passion. It is passion that will give you the energy to work harder than anyone else and survive through each and every storm. Passion also happens to be a great indicator when selecting a co-founder, and having a shared mission and vision will help your team stay together. A powerful story will also get people excited about what you are building; it will be much easier to succeed if you have a compelling WHY.
3. The perfect size and shape. Do not start this journey alone. You will need the help and support of your co-founders, not only to execute your idea, but also for the motivation and support. Ideally, you should have 2 to 3 co-founders, who complement each other with their background, experience, and skills. More importantly, the skill set should be relevant to whatever you are building, and if you are non-technical, get yourself a technical co-founder.
4. Look for certain characteristics. Experience and skills are important, but they come second to certain characteristics and soft skills that are required to be a successful entrepreneur and team player. Among the obvious are good communication skills and a risk taking attitude. But to really understand if you have got yourself a good sailor, start by asking yourself the following questions:
Are they smart and resourceful? You certainly want someone on board who can think critically and come up with unique solutions to a wide range of problems, regardless of their previous experience or knowledge.
Are they tough and calm? Find out whether they have the inner strength to stay positive and focused in a storm, while maintaining calmness and clarity of mind during those difficult situations. A good indicator of toughness and calmness can be gauged from past experience.
Are they doers? In a startup it is important to execute fast and well, and learn to do things from scratch. It is important to find someone who is willing to put in the work and execute.
5. Get the legals right and split that equity fairly. Once you have got your core team together, do not wait to have the difficult conversations. The earlier you understand each other’s commitments, expectations, and visions of the future, the better off you will be. Draft a Founder’s Agreement, whether it is a template or not, make the necessary edits, and sign it off. Oh, and don’t be stringent with that equity. Splitting it equally is usually the best way to go, regardless of who came up with the idea, seniority, and so on… Not only will an equal split be better for team dynamics, but it will also look better to investors.
Now that we have covered the core team, let’s look at future growth.
Growing the Team
1.Don’t grow your team unless it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary. It is tempting to start expanding the team, especially as the business grows and the tasks become more time-consuming and complex. However, making a wrong hire at the early stage might turn into a death sentence. Most people that mess this up rarely recover. Postpone hiring as much as possible and do more with your core team. Desperately need help? You can always outsource, onboard interns, and independent contractors.
2. Do not settle for meh. Adding people to the team is a serious commitment, and it should not be taken lightly. At the early stage, having a mediocre employee will be detrimental to the company’s culture. Everyone in a small startup has the enormous influence to set the tone. Having one co-worker off-tune might throw off the whole orchestra.
3. Who to hire. If you have finally come around to making your first hire, then follow the same checklist as when choosing your co-founders: entrepreneurial passion, mission-driven, smart, resourceful, tough, calm, execution machine, good communicator, risk-taker… and finally, make sure that you actually want to spend time around them.
That’s it. Those are the main lessons we learned when it comes to the team and we hope that they can be useful to you. Here’s the best piece of advice that we can give you: learn from other people’s mistakes. Most startups go through the same issues over and over, and there are plenty of easily accessible resources that can help make a difference to your own success. So, if you want to spare yourself time, energy, and money, take the advice seriously and refer to these points along your own journey.