How to Build a Team When All You Have Is an Idea

Design, but simple.

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“All those who are business people here, raise your hands,” said the Startup Weekend’s organiser. About a quarter of the room full of eager entrepreneurs put their hands up.

“Now all of you, leave.”

This was an odd way to kick off a startup event, but everyone understood the point. The key to building a startup is for everyone on the team to get their hands dirty. The thinkers are dead weight.

When to Start Building a Team

So you’re looking for a team.

But is a team really what you need?

A friend of mine once told me about a product idea. He had worked in the social media space at the time. He saw a need for a product like Hootsuite, just easier to use.

The thing is, he didn’t know how to code. Or design. Or sell.

“I already have a team of two developers, but they’re busy with their own stuff right now, so the project is kind of at a standstill. We’re totally working on it though!”

He never ended up shipping his product idea, but someone else did — and named it Buffer.

Developers are busy. And they have ideas, just like you. So why should they work on your idea – without pay – when you’re not even working on it?

Before you start looking for a team to join your startup, create a prototype and validate your idea. If you don’t want to learn to code or design, get someone else to do it — and pay them in cash, not fictional equity points. This is the only way to actually get work delivered in a sensible timeframe.

Here’s a guide to how to validate your product idea without coding or hiring anyone to do it.

Roles in a Start-Up Team

Let’s assume you’ve already validated the idea. It’s time to get some people on board.

First, look for unicorns.

In early-stage startups, every person will need a large cut of the company’s equity. But the more people there are, the more diluted the equity for each. This means there’s less motive for each individual to join the group.

This is why finding people who are good at multiple startup skills (unicorns) makes the most sense.

hacker, how to build a team


You’ll need someone who can bring your product into life. This person will eventually also assist in hiring the right developers to work on your startup, so ideally they’ll have a more general skillset.

  • Modern programming language of choice (PHP / Python / Ruby / JavaScript)
  • Working with servers and databases, security
  • Knowledge of new frameworks to streamline the process
  • Loves to learn
  • Communicates well
designer, how to build a team


Someone on your team needs to oversee the product development and user experience. They also need to develop the brand identity, including a website design. Ideally, the designer on your team will also know front-end development so they’re able to implement their ideas.

  • User testing
  • Wireframing
  • UI design
  • Front-end development
  • Asks questions
  • Is a visionary
marketer, how to build a team


Do you really need a programmer and a designer to build a startup?

Nope. You need sales.

The role of marketer / salesperson is in a way the most important one in your company. Many first-time entrepreneurs feel sleazy about selling, but you better get over it soon. It’s not really possible to ever delegate this task in a small business. Until you have a working system in place that your newly hired marketers can follow, the selling is going to stay on your shoulders.

  • Direct sales
  • Copywriting
  • Content marketing
  • Outreach
  • Social media
  • Pitching, public speaking


The visionary is the person with ideas. While the role definitely has a place in any company, there is disproportionately little work available for them.

The visionary needs to have at least one of the skillsets listed above to be truly valuable to their team. Covering the design aspect is best since they’ll be able to instantly try out and test their product ideas.

How to Persuade People to Join Your Team

Ok, now you have your wish list ready, but where will you find the candidates to join?

The process is actually similar to hiring.

First, you’ll want to think about what’s in it for them. I get pitched by idea people all the time, and they often refuse to talk about equity. “We’ll figure it out once there’s something to talk about,” they say.

But you know what I hear? “I don’t think there will ever be any equity to talk about.”

So think about what you can offer. Will you pay for the team’s work? Are you offering equity and how much? Do you have a track record of projects you successfully carried out? If this isn’t your first startup, make sure to point it out!

Brett J. Fox
Startup CEO Coach

Here's how we did it: we had a great story, a great team with a great reputation in our industry, we paid market rate for talent, and had a benefits plan that rivaled our larger, established competitors.

So there you have it. Your blueprint to starting a team.

Design, but simple.

My popular design ebook is now on sale. Don't miss out!

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