WeWork Labs Entrepreneur in Residence Adaora Udoji on Why Team Dynamics Can Make or Break a Startup

At a fireside chat introducing Adaora Udoji as 175 Varick’s new WeWork Labs Entrepreneur in Residence, Udoji, managing director of The Boshia Group, shared her thoughts on finding the right investors, hiring for tech roles when you don’t have a tech background, and the team dynamics every startup found needs to avoid. Here are five takeaways.

1. The kiss of death for startups
Starting a company and building a team is hard. It’s even harder if it’s really clear that one person is not working, Udoji said. She explained further, “whatever team you have, if it’s not working, change it,” Udoji said. “If something is fundamentally rotten, it’s always going to be fundamentally rotten and in your heart of hearts you know it. But people drag things out in a way that kills businesses,” she said. “It’s among the number one killers before you get to the point where you run out of money.” Your team environment doesn’t have to be perfect, “but it can’t be toxic and undermining and passive aggressive.” (This article about improving your interviewing skills so you can hire the best talent for your team can help you avoid this problem entirely.)

2. Don’t waste your time on investors who don’t care about your industry
“You have more sources of potential funding, more angels than you've ever had,” Udoji said. If you want to find the right investors, “You have to follow the breadcrumbs of what your product or venture is about and find the people who care about the same thing,” she said. Reaching out to any investor you can find is a waste of your own valuable time and energy because you’ll inevitably reach out to people who don’t care about what you do. “I get notes all the time, and I think, anyone who spends five seconds looking at my profile, you’d see there’s no fashion in there, no hair in there,” she explained. “You’re wasting so much time sending me a note about these things I clearly have no interest in. That’s right up there as a most common mistake.” When you do find investors who are interested in your industry, Quake Capital's Sumary Parikh has great advice on how to connect with them.

3. Be simple and targeted with your message
Udoji spent years as both a TV producer and on-camera talent and she noted the parallels between telling a story as a journalist and telling your story as a company. First, keep it simple. “The most important thing is that you’re clear about what it is that you do,” she said. Second, you have to know who you’re talking to. “Make sure you're tailoring your message to whoever your most important audience is at any given moment,” Udoji said. “If you’re a consumer company and you’re in beta and you want to get as many people to sign up as you can, what do they want to hear? If you’re talking to investors, the way that you talk about who you are is going to change slightly with each one because you're trying to find the thing that's going to make you stickiest to whoever you’re trying to stick to.” (Here are four pitches you should have in your pocket at any given time.) When you’re preparing your message, think of the three W’s: who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. “If you sit down and write that out whenever you get ready to talk to someone, you’re going to be way ahead of the game,” Udoji said.

4. Use your network to fill in your own knowledge gaps
If you’re a non-technical founder with a limited tech background looking for a CTO or a developer and trying to figure out how to assess their skills, Udoji’s biggest piece of advice is to “engage anyone in your life with technical expertise early.” Leverage your own network to find someone who can provide you with input on what you should be looking for in candidates. “You need help and guidance around what an assessment or scenario to test them with might look like,” said Udoji, “and you don’t want to put that together for input at the last minute.” (Need help building your network? This article can tell you how to create real connections that'll help you grow your business.)

5. Anticipate what investors are going to ask you and know your answers
“Any investor is going to say they look at the idea, the potential product, the addressable market, and the team,” said Udoji. “And we want to see something we believe can actually go to market, and that people will use or buy.” If you don’t have all of those facets of your business prepared right now, that’s okay, she added. “Prospective investors will ask a lot of questions. They don’t always expect you to have every answer,” she explained, but they want to know that you’ve thought about the questions and you’re working towards answers. For early stage companies, Udoji added that “the dream is very important”—your grand vision, and how big do you think your company could be.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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