5 rules for building a superstar venture team

By: Adrian Wong

It’s tough to build great teams. It’s even tougher to build great  venture  teams. Building new products and services often means a healthy dose of uncertainty, limited resources, tight timelines and a high risk of failure – and this can make even the best teams wobble.

Over the past few years I’ve been lucky to have built dozens of venture teams, each with the aim of finding the holy grail: to launch a successful, valuable product or service, which users love. Here’s what I’ve learned in the process.

1. Small is beautiful

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos decreed that every internal team should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas (Eric Ries of Lean Startup fame is also a proponent). What are the benefits of a compact venture team? Faster bonding, better communications, more work vs. management, rapid decision-making. Keep your venture teams small to give yourselves the best chance of success.

2. Go cross-function, or go home

Many venture teams don’t have enough cross-function representation – any pair of startup co-founders will tell you it’s tough to develop a new venture without the full skillset (trust me, I’ve been there!). Before you start designing your business, get the right business designers in the room. For most ventures, this means a product owner, marketing, operations, technology and commercial; depending on the venture, you may also need representation from UX/Digital, data science, R&D, compliance or other functions.

3. Find a sponsor who loves the idea

Enthusiastic senior sponsorship is mission-critical. Senior sponsors unblock obstacles, provide decision-making firepower and ultimately supply funding for the final product. Without a senior sponsor, your venture team is unlikely to succeed.

4. Designs change, so should venture teams

Clients often stick doggedly to the same venture team members throughout the develop process. This is a mistake! Venture teams often change because of two reasons. First, venture designs can pivot after workshops or experiments – if this happens, you may need different expertise to continue development. Second, venture design teams often differ to venture delivery teams. So as you move through design to the point of building an end-to-end pilot, you might need to do some swaps.

5. Set your team culture by writing it down

Bad culture means bad behaviours, and this kills teams. Set your venture team’s culture by writing it down from the very beginning. Verbal snippets like “think big, start small” sound fluffy, but quickly become shared language, values and ultimately behaviours in a venture team.

Venture teams are the lifeblood of new products and services. Bad venture teams are doomed to fail, but build a  great  one and you’ll give yourself the best chance of building products and services which succeed.