Making the Dream Work: Startup Founders Share How They Assembled Their Teams
We spoke to Longevity Network entrepreneurs to find out their secrets for building a great team. A considerable number of our respondents took this question to heart, speaking passionately about their teams as the single most important factor–not only for the success of the company as a whole but also for the sense of personal fulfillment the entrepreneurs find in their work.
Let’s begin with these founders and hear how they built that culture they so highly prize.
DON’T RUSH IT! AND USE THAT TIME TO FOCUS ON SHARED WORKPLACE VALUES
Co-founder and CEO of AdhereTech, Josh Stein, articulated this point strongly. “The team was assembled one-by-one, with great time and effort dedicated to every team member. Team is everything – it’s by far the most important aspect of any company because it affects every inch of the firm.”
Founder and CEO Susan Bratton of Savor Health echoed his point and added that there are some ancillary customer service benefits. “Having worked on Wall Street for many years where the culture was cutthroat and people were often not respectful of each other, it was paramount to me that I create a culture where people work hard, respect each other AND have fun…So I looked for people with empathy and compassion, who were team players and who believed in our mission. Not only will this type of person be a great co-worker, but they will also be respectful and helpful to our customers.
Asif Khan, Caremerge founder & CEO, emphasized culture as well. “We have a mission-centric culture that is supportive, affirming and challenging. We look for people who are ready to roll their shirt-sleeves up and get dirty in order to make this revolution happen. Optimistic pragmatism is prized but it’s the idealism, the belief that all obstacles can be surmounted somehow, that we appreciate in each and every Caremerge team member.”
Crucially, however, finding someone who is a good “culture fit” does not mean surrounding yourself with a bunch of people who think (or look) just like you, which brings us to our second lesson.
SEEK DIFFERENCE: IN DISCIPLINE, SKILL & BACKGROUND
This point may seem contradictory to the first lesson, but it’s not. Building a workplace of mutual respect and even tossing in a little fun does not prohibit diversity of talents, background or demographics.
Neurocern co-founder Marguerite Manteau-Rao spoke highly of her partners’ talents and pointed out how they differed from her own. “[My partner Anitha Rao-Frisch] is a board-certified, geriatric neurologist, formerly at UCSF Memory and Aging Center. She brings the neuroscience piece, and I contribute the person-centered and dementia care end. The third member of our team, Dan Kogan, is a serial entrepreneur and healthcare technologist.
If your product or service is intended to serve different kinds of users or customers, this need for difference is amplified. Founder and CEO of Care3, David Williams, tells us, “Because Care3 must engage consumers while providing the power for the healthcare enterprise users, our founding team has a natural creative tension between our enterprise healthcare leader and our consumer product leader. We assembled this team because typical enterprise healthcare technology isn’t designed for consumer usage and without consumer engagement, firms have no way to materially change behavior and outcomes.”
And it’s not just about professional skills. “We value that we span millennial through the boomer generation in age…,” says Heidi Culbertson, co-founder and CEO of Ask Marvee. Sally Poblete of Wellthie drills it down even further. “It is equally important that our team is diverse to properly represent the diverse constituency we work with.”
At the end of the day, though, a large number of the LN entrepreneurs say it comes down to what animates a person each and every day when they show up to work.
ABOVE ALL, LOOK FOR PASSION AND COMMITMENT TO THE MISSION
Sandy Jen, CTO, co-founder of Honor, reports “[We] gathered a diverse set of individuals who also deeply care about the mission to help our parents and grandparents age at home with as much joy, comfort, and grace as possible.”
This guiding principle seemed to apply whether recruiting in person or online. After Cake CEO Suelin Chen met her co-founder at MIT Hacking Medicine’s Grand Hack, she reports, “We assembled the rest of our amazing team online, where we posted open positions and many people reached out to us because they connected strongly with our mission.”
And for co-founder and CEO, Randy Farr, of Healthspek, passion for the mission can even trump professional experience or education. “Energy and motivation [are] more important to us than degrees or pedigree. We have a great team that is highly interested in solving the problems that Healthspek is here to solve.”
Finally, many of our founders point out they they chose the healthcare tech sector because of their own calling to improve the lives of others. Finding a team who shares their sense of mission, then, is not simply a matter of pragmatic business acumen; it can be profound and philosophical. Founder Melissa Louie of SeniorHabitat expressed her sense of calling by quoting Mahatma Gandhi. “Our team,” she said, “[is] comprise[d] of individuals that truly want to make a difference in healthcare and improve the quality of life of older adults and caregivers. We are truly passionate about our work and mission because we want to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’.”