We never set out to start a company. It was never our direct intention. We were just a group of nerdy friends who loved meeting up and talking about tech. Our conversations, which almost always started with a “what if” where nothing short of inspired. I loved how nothing ever seemed silly, we would drill down the concept until we all agreed that there was no point in pursuing it as it was, we would then work on building on our own variant that would work (it did work in our heads at least).
Meeting up with these guys always felt like we were convening a war council to plan how we were going to take over the world. It always felt like we were going on some mission to save the planet. The energy and enthusiasm, it soon became that thing that you would look forward to at the end of the day. So when we got to that point where a formal legal entity was needed to house the work we were doing, and when the hard times came, It never felt like immense work. When it would get hard, all I had to do was look to either side of me and there would be two other people pushing and keeping on, that gave me the energy to keep going, It was our little own self-sustaining support system.
That is when I got to understand the value of a team. We each had our own set of skills, and we would keep working on them, perfecting them making sure that we each complemented each other. I always saw value in the way that Jabulani translated our ideas into products using elegant code and in how Blessing’s crazy genius just brought out the most amazing of design work. I could clearly see the vested interest that each of us had. Why we were all doing this. It built a sense of trust that I believe is the single most valuable asset that we have at Neolab. It is the same shared vision that gave us the energy to travel 440 km overnight to pitch at a competition. Everyone who saw us and looked in from the outside thought that we were crazy, crazy enough to try and change the world!
This is why we value the process of team formation at Neolab. It’s not just about throwing people together and assigning tasks, it goes deeper than that. There is that chemistry that needs to be there. It’s almost like dating, you keep going until you find the right one, never settling. I think it is important to surround yourself with people who share the same vision as yourself, and above all, to have people who know what you do not know. People who might actually be better than you. Most look for people similar to them, people who will reinforce their ego’s, the problem with that is simple, you will not grow. You will slowly shift into a state of mediocrity because all that is around you is exactly the same. Reed Hoffman put it in very simple terms that:
“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” -The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
So if you want to grow, and yes your team has to make you grow, then hang out with people who already are, or are on the way to becoming what you want to be. I understand now the value of a team. How it will keep you going when you burn out. How it will force you to be better, to seek to be more, to find your true value. I will not join a team unless I know the value they will be contributing, and the value I will be able to contribute to that team. People forget that the team comes with it a shared form of identity, you cannot say ” I work with them, but I am nothing like them” You increasingly become what you constantly see around you, so make sure that the scenery is what you want to see in yourself.
Most startups focus on the product and neglect the team itself. I have seen it when people come and pitch. They spend like 10 seconds on the team slide, and 4 minutes on everything else! When in actual fact, it’s the team that made the product. It is the team in which people are investing. The team’s ability to create the value in the product. I love Silicon valley, the series about Pied Piper the startup that creates this awesome compression algorithm. I like this part when Richard is talking to Peter Gregory, the Investor, and Peter stops Richard with a ” the algorithm is a product of the company, I’m interested in the company.” It is important to understand both the internal and external value of your team. Do not take it for granted.