The startup culture is by now well settled in the Indian economy. They have moved to a higher level of maturity of their growth trajectory; I mean people are generally aware of the path and the logic a typical startup will follow as it tries to root itself in the business paradigm. Not so long ago, startups were an entity with a lot of curiosity, right from who the proprietor is, age (more specifically, how young s/he is), experience, and above all — the key investors in the business.
Over the years, things have calmed down, and there are enough examples of success and failures for the newcomers to make their decisions. However, one aspect which I feel is yet to be resolved, and the founders over the years have mulled enough on, is to identify the right character for their leadership team.
While a lot depends on the space a startup is established, there are some essentials that the founder(s) look for when hiring the leadership team.
Here are the top 5 leadership qualities that startups look for in their employees:
1. You should love to take challenges head on
A startup is definitely not a cushy job. There are umpteen challenges to deal with — in terms of people quantity and quality, financial resources, and yes, establishing the brand or concept or product itself.
It is for this reason that the founders look for toughness and tenacity in their core team.
And yes, they would look for a demonstrated past and NOT just someone who talks of the solution but has never come across a similar situation.
2. Experience of scaling up
Startups don’t have the liberty of time. Market and investor pressures press hard for rapid growth. It’s a different ball game compared to a steady state 6-10-12% growth characterized in an established business.
Startups need to grow by over 100% year on year. It is thus important to have leaders who have been associated with organisations which have the culture of achieving beyond the market growth.
The founders would typically look ‘fire in the belly’. It is the way the person sets a target for himself and his team and that is what makes the difference.
3. The 3 Ps: Personality, Pedigree and Positivity
Startups need to transform themselves fast. The leaders should possess a definite aura around them. The aura or the charisma will come from the education background, the geography he or she has worked in (USA/ UK/Europe — especially if the primary investors belong here), and the organisations the person has been associated within the recent past.
This helps in having a critical face of the organisation to the many stakeholders like the current and prospective clients, investors and shareholders. It is imperative that the startup creates a definite trust in all its stakeholders and having the 3Ps in perspective goes a long way.
4. Sectorial expertise
Not all but quite a few business segments go for this skill. While many a time, the owner or founder will have the primary knowledge of the sector, the CXOs — especially the CEO and the COO — is expected to have worked in a similar space.
In a typical startup, the offering is a new concept but the logic can be bought over from other business segments.
5. Flexibility to work in unpredictable conditions
This one is rare, but for me, it is very important for a founder. Establishing a startup is nothing less than sailing across deep waters. One comes across many unpredictable events and scenarios, decisions need to reverse, new ideas become old before they are experimented with, schedules go haywire, people move in and out at a drop of a hat, external environment in terms of governing laws, investor irritabilities etc — all to be taken into stride and move ahead.
There is little time to look back and think.
Someone used to a stereotypical system and processes will not make the cut.
The startup environment is a different ball game and not everyone’s cup of tea. The founders understand this well and are very choosy when selecting a candidate, not only for the leadership role but across the organisation.
Over the years, as the startups have matured, their ability to select the right person has vastly improved and has resulted in much better business performance.