Choosing Your Start-Up Team: Avoid the Dabblers, Kill the Obsessives, Tame the Hackers

Last summer, after a successful business trip to Helsinki in Finland, and San Francisco in United States, I suddenly discovered that one of my programmer secretly contacted my representative partner in Turkey, told him, he doesn’t need to be a representative of my company, instead he could easily have access to our entire database and application source code, and then make a business out it by himself. The programmer cheerfully told the representative that if he would pay him some money, he would help him maintain the code, etc.

That’s really Ugly, and It happened to me! You don’t want to have the same kind of guy in your team, do you?

Teams are the only asset startups have. Without the right people in the team, it’s unlikely that a startup will succeed attracting investors, growing a healthy business.

As Jim Collins put in his best selling book “Good to Great“:

“Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

To decide where to drive the bus before you have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, is absolutely the wrong approach.”

But, how do you chose the right people to build a strong team that win? First know your enemies: Avoid the Dabblers, Kill the Obsessives, Tame the Hackers, Attract the masters.

  • The Dabbler: the dabbler is the guy who gets really into something for awhile and loves the quick results but the moment things fade, he’s off to the next new thing—rationalizing that it just wasn’t a good fit. The Dabbler is not a bad guy. He could be a good journalist, curator, or freelancer working on new subjects or projects often. But, a startup is one project for the long run.The dabbler definitely is not a good fit for a startup, but surprisingly he is the easiest to convince to  join any new venture. Unfortunately, the dabbler motivation wears off fast. First come, he will be also the first to jump ship when thing get tough.
  • The Obsessive:  the obsessive is the type of person who wants to get the tennis stroke right on the first lesson. He is a hard worker, and willing to put in the necessary effort to get the desired result, but he expects the new startup to succeed  at once. When results are not fast as he expects, or start to slow, the obsessive will start doubting the possibility of success.The obsessive is not like the dabbler who runs from one venture to another, exited only by new stuff, his problem comes from the fact that he is impatient with results. He can not stand weeks and months of uncertainty, long hours of effort without any visible outcome. He can bring you till the chasm, but you can’t cross the chasm or the valley of death with the obsessive types.
  • The Hacker: the hacker is good at something. After sort of getting the hang of something, the hacker is content, and enjoy the pride and recognition that comes with his mastery. He would be first class in what he does, as he loves Hacking, hacking hacking. The hacker will stay with you, when the dabbler has left long time ago, and contrary to the obsessive the hacker knows that good stuff takes time to get done, and result comes with time. However, the hacker is not flexible. Often, he forgets that his guru status acquired at hacking something can’t be transferred to other stuff. He will defend the status quo, when it comes to things he is good at, or has done.You definitely need the hacker, but you need to challenge him out of his comfort zone.You need to bring him to conferences, to customers’ meetings, and “force” him to read Thomas Kuhn book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

In the end, if you are lucky and deserve it, you’ll find the perfect people that make up great team: The Masters of Enterprise:

    • The master of enterprise: the master of enterprise is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives. He is a blend of worthy skills and attitude. You build the best team with those guys. They are Enthusiastic like the dabbler, Patient unlike the obsessive, Get things done like the hacker but still open and flexible. Above all, they are committed.

Here a is great video describing the 3 main characteristics of the master of enterprise

(The four types of profile is adapted from the book “Mastery. The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment “BY GEORGE LEONARD)

By the way, why is it so important to have the right people in the team before anything else? Let go back to Jim Collins again:

“When it comes to getting started, good-to-great leaders understand three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions. Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results. And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results.”

Once you have the right people in the team, the next step is to set up your organization foundations right with the “3Rs”:

  • Relationship decisions,
  • Roles decisions, and
  • Rewards decisions.

Relationship decisions touch on who you co-found a company with, roles decisions involves assigning titles and roles within a team. Finally, reward decisions are about how to split equity.

Here is Noam Wasserman, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Founder’s Dilemma (see book review), outlining the three pitfalls startup founders must avoid:

As a startup team member or leader, you need to be aware of the little things that make great team win. Finally, here is a very last video you should watch to complete your learning about how to build a great startup team:


About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of, Founder of, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at

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