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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Building a Dream Team

A team is one of the primary - if not the primary - drivers of success for your startup. Pick the right team and you're bound to increase your odds of succeeding. Pick the wrong individuals & everything tends to go to shit pretty quickly.

This post is inspired by this week's Startup Edition, which asks the question: "How do you build a team?"


Over the years, I've had the opportunity of building various teams: WooThemes, Radiiate (R.I.P.) and now with PublicBeta. Out of all of those, WooThemes has enabled the most learning as the team boasts 33 members today. This mostly however just means that I got the opportunity to make loads of mistakes & learn from them. :)

Based on those experiences though, I've been incredibly strict about the way I'm putting the PublicBeta team together, as many of my considerations requires implementation from Day 1. Most of the mistakes we made with WooThemes was a case of not going about team building and hiring in the right way from Day 1, which means that most of the problems we've had to resolve over the years, were rooted in historic decisions.

This is the the blueprint I'm following with PublicBeta:

1. Pursue cultural-fit at all costs

"Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing."

Culture and the environment within which that culture is nurtured has become a bit of a buzz word within startups in the last couple of months. Unlike many startup-related trends, this is a trend that I believe in.

There's a certain way that things will and should happen in your startup and that way will most represent a combination of the founders' personalities and personal values. There's no way to avoid that, as the founders can't undo who they already are. So whilst a culture can most definitely evolve over time (as a team grows), every hire should fit in with the original culture.

With PublicBeta, I drafted a very early V1 of our culture code, which I'm using to assemble the team. One of the more extreme elements of that culture code is my dream to be a completely open company (inspired by Buffer & SumAll). I intend on not hiring anyone if they're not willing to share this ambition and willingness (to be transparent / open).

This comes down to a type of strengths-based leadership, where we're doubling down on our strengths and not worrying too much about weaknesses. As the founder, creating an open company is a dream of mine and pursuing that dream is the reason that I self-funded this adventure. By adding individuals to the team that don't buy into vision, I'm negating the potential competitive advantage that stems from having that cultural fit.

It however also extends to an ethos of how we (as a team) want to achieve things and what we want to achieve. If these things aren't aligned within a team, you'll have friction which ultimately undermines a lot of the good work you're doing.

2. Passion + Personality > Skills

Others have said this much better than I ever could.

With hindsight being an exact science and all, I experienced this first hand when we were hiring support technicians for WooThemes a couple of years ago... We always struggled to find individuals that had the relevant technical skills, but also wanted to do support (instead of working on product). In our minds, nobody ever wanted to do support, as it was a crappy job.

And for a couple of months, we had a really high turnover of any hires we made in this regard.

Then we changed things and we focused more on the personality and values of the individuals we were interviewing for support positions. We hired individuals that had a love for solving problems and helping other people. We started seeing greater success in our hiring and I'm proud to say that every single hire since is still with the team.

Skills can be learnt (mostly), but having the passion or personality for a specific job / market can't. So it simply doesn't help hiring the most talented person you can find if that individual doesn't give a shit about your vision, your culture or the things you're passionate about.

Simon Sinek advocates that the best leaders will do business with people that believe what they believe. Surround yourself with great people who share your passion and you'll create such an unstoppable force to pursue your goals.

3. Hire individuals that push you

Paint yourself this picture: Friday, 5:30pm and just about beer-time. Yet you're still online, wrapping things up. One of your team members (employees) pings you as they are still working. They have questions & suggestions, but mostly they're just working to make progress on the companies goals. The thing is that they need your input, since you are the founder.

That's a situation I've found myself in a couple of times in the last few weeks. Chloe (my first team member at PublicBeta) has had the knack to push me really hard, even in times when I wasn't necessarily working.

I know that Chloe ticks the first two boxes (fitting into PublicBeta's culture and she shares my passion for helping other entrepreneurs) and as such, she is simply working hard to achieve our goals. Her drive and own ambition though has really spurred me on though.

And that's what you want: you want the team to not only pick up the slack when you're not around, but you want the team to inspire each other to do better things. Imagine the exponential effect that such inspiration has on the company as a whole.

You are the average of the people that surrounds you. So you might as just well pick people that inspire you to be better and do more.


Building a team is paramount to your success, yet so many entrepreneurs compromises on this at the very first hurdle. We find it hard to find the right people, so we just hire any type of individual.

That's probably the biggest mistake you can make.

Be selective and exclusive in who you add to your team. Consider not adding someone rather than adding someone that isn't a good fit for what you're hoping to achieve. Simply adding bodies for the sake of it, doesn't help and it only decreases your signal-to-noise ratio.

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