/ / Aligned To Succeed: Why Founding Team Alignment Matters
Aligned To Succeed: Why Founding Team Alignment Matters
/ / Aligned To Succeed: Why Founding Team Alignment Matters

Aligned To Succeed: Why Founding Team Alignment Matters

All founders have vision. Great founders see something that others don’t and build teams around a vision that solves a problem. Great founders have to be great communicators to excite their teams and create the necessary alignment that creates success – great teams are always aligned. Furthermore, the founder has to be vigilant at all times making sure their teams continue to be aligned. I’m not talking about companies like Facebook or Amazon or any of the behemoths who lose their way, I’m talking about your startup.  

When my last company was around 7 years old, I could see an impending regulatory threat on the horizon that threatened the success (and even the existence) of my company.  I knew we had to act. However, the leaders of our teams were so head-down executing on our original vision that I knew I had to be bold and demonstrate the threat they didn’t see. I knew we needed to adjust, but I also knew I couldn’t just tell the team what to do – otherwise, they’d end up with more work and resent this new direction every step of the way. In short: I needed to maintain alignment.  

So what did I do? In this instance, I created teams of two executives and asked them to go out, research this threat, and present their discovery and recommendations to all the other groups and me. The result? Everyone came back with the same terrifying notion that we may not be in business in a couple of years if we didn’t act now. The ultimate decision was to create a new division and diversify our offering, which was exactly what I wanted to do, and what we ultimately did. Fortunately, the regulatory change was not as drastic as it could have been, but the team came out with a greater sense of purpose and belonging, the company ended up with a new revenue stream, we were more nimble and the alignment persevered, and we grew through a potential crisis.

As an angel investor, I spend a lot of time talking about the nitty-gritty numbers of investing, metrics, and money. When it comes to this topic, I think more about my experience and all the other things in this world that require alignment, like the adrenaline-pumping world of individual extreme sports. In base-jumping, heliskiing, and running a startup, the same things hold: you never do it alone. Your “team” may consist of helicopter pilots, training partners, teammates, coaches, and supporters, but you need other people along the way to help you reach your goals, particularly when it can come down to life or death. The startup world is no different: the environment is brutal and dangerous and, if you’re not adequately prepared and agile in the face of challenge, you’re going to get eaten alive.

As a founder, aligning your vision with your team is your priority. I don’t just say that from experience, I say that as an investor that will not be interested in your startup for long if I see a cocky (or, conversely, insecure!) founder with a disgruntled team behind them. And I’ll know – because I’ve been one of those founders in the past.

From my considerable experience successfully and not-so-successfully aligning with my teams as a founder, here are my top takeaways:

1. Founders matter, but alignment matters more

I often see co-founders who are not aligned. It’s not long before one of them is out.  It’s an old study now, but one that I often think back on as the finding was profound: founder-CEOs tend to earn smaller compensation than professional CEOs, but their firms are associated with higher financial performance and are more likely to survive than professionally-managed firms.  

As an investor, the founding team may be more critical to me than the product. Yes, you read that right. Not only can the founding team help you – if you and your team aren’t aligned, it can kill you. Interpersonal issues with a founding team may cause more startups to fail than poor products. This is because the early stages of a startup are uncertain, risk-filled, stressful times. Founders need to limit opportunities for disagreement and strife and that means aligning their team. 

2. Include and refer often to your Purpose, Mission, Vision, or Values 

Often the exercise of creating your Purpose, Mission or Vision statement and your Core Values becomes just an offsite exercise that never actually assimilates into a culture.  Use these daily guideposts and goal lines to ensure your teams understand and are actively building the culture as well as the product you’ve set out to achieve.

3. Clarity is king.

As an angel investor, I know founders are trying to keep me happy. They tell me what they think I want to hear, which is that their business is going to be a meteoric success that will change the future of tech. If I don’t clearly understand where a founder is going, what their vision is, why it matters, and many other factors –  there’s no way their team does. Make sure you’re clear. Make sure they’re clear. Clarity is king. 

4. A happy team is a productive team.

Building and growing a solid team is critical, and one of the key descriptors that signals an aligned founder and team to me is “happy.” Happiness is closely related to increased performance, better productivity, more energy, better reviews, and even health outcomes. Happy dev teams even write better code – and they do it faster. 

When it comes to aligning a founder and team, it may help to think about what doesn’t make you happy, which are often more “human” traits than anything quantifiable: being disrespected, unappreciated, and feeling unmotivated. 

In my opinion, happiness is the seed of motivation – and motivation is non-negotiable in the startup world. If you and your team aren’t motivated, you’re dead in the water and so is my investment capital. 

5. Link organizational goals to personal goals.

For startup founders, everything is personal. But for your team? You have to find a way to hit them where it…well, not hurts. Helps? Feels good? You get where I am going here. It has to matter to them on a personal level. Not just for you as the founder – but for everyone. You need emotional buy-in. Without it, it’s only a matter of time before you lose valuable people, and the success of your business follows.

6. Be honest.

I don’t mince words. For better or worse (and, when I was starting out, sometimes it was worse), my team always knows where I stand and what I’m going to do next. That makes people trust you, even if they don’t like what you’re saying. Transparency, which is the business word for honesty, just means that you are a real human being, creating real connections, and not lying to the people you rely on to bring your collective dream to reality. You should be transparent with your team and they should be transparent with you. This does not mean being unnecessarily blunt or thoughtless. Empathy is your friend. 

7. Listen.

Listen often. Make a point to communicate with your team often, not just your scheduled one-on-ones, ask lots of questions and listen. Don’t try to solve every problem in every conversation. Shutting up a little bit is one of the most powerful leadership tools you’ll ever develop. Listen first. Think. Then talk. Maybe shove a few days in between the listening and the talking. It never hurts to listen more, but talking more can hurt you. 

A founder shouldn’t be the only person talking. As an investor, I want to see that you listen to your people and can accurately distill important information, feedback, and cultural shifts down to actionable items that optimize their offering. Hearing your people should matter to you and then – when it’s your turn to talk – your team should be able to listen with trust, knowing you’re speaking from a place of knowledge and openness. 

8. Show gratitude.

I know founders may be more than a little intimidated by me – they need me, my capital, and my expertise. And that intimidation trickles right down. By showing gratitude to your team, you can encourage a culture of gratitude at your organization. And that’s only ever a good thing.

9. Positivity.

People don’t get positivity. In leadership, and when aligning a team, positivity isn’t about pretending things are rainbows and sunshine. It’s about leading from a place of belief that problems can be solved and a creative solution is just around the corner. That, together, we can be resilient to whatever’s ahead because we have our combined skills and resources to tap into.

10. Champion accountability.

Nothing turns me off an investment faster than a victim mentality. Founders need to be accountable and model accountability for their team by creating a space where mistakes can be owned. This is called an atmosphere of growth and it’s the best culture you can have. 

As an investor, I can seem like an untouchable, all-powerful outside force in whose hands the fate of the company rests. As a founder, your team needs you to be real, to let them be real, and to be able to take risks, even if they don’t work out. If you’re hammering your team every time they move, and they’re working from a place of insecurity, you’re creating a culture of fear – which is the absolute best way to kill creativity and vision. Don’t do that. 

11. Be a human being. 

If I could sum up how to align your vision and team in one phrase that would be it. I know that sounds overly simplistic, but you’d be surprised how much humanity gets lost when everything is ROI and CMP and IPO. At the end of the day, no matter how many numbers I have in front of me – I always go with my gut. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong, but when I’m faced with a dynamic founder who’s aligned with her team, I know it. You know what it looks like and feels like to be motivated, appreciated, valued, and championed. Don’t overthink it. Lead your team with resilience, strength, honesty, and humanity. You might still fail – but you’ll get up with great people behind you, ready to try again. 

Then get out of the way. 

As a founder, now that you have a transparent, respectful, goal-oriented, happy, productive, and positive team that is ready to wow potential investors – it’s time to GTFO of the way. As a founder, your aligned team should be able to perform their work without endless intervention and interruptions and march behind you into the fire of the marketplace towards success. When founders invest the time in building successful teams and nurturing the culture they’ve created, they hit the market with an aligned team – and, as an angel investor, I can tell you: there aren’t many better indicators of success than that. 

If you have an incredible team aligned with you at your game-changing tech startup, I want to know. Reach out to me here

Enjoy the ride.