Entrepreneurial Founder Teams
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The American culture of individualism, self-reliance, and independence celebrates the legend of the lone entrepreneur. However, for many years, research has shown that team-founded ventures achieve ...

The American culture of individualism, self-reliance, and independence celebrates the legend of the lone entrepreneur. However, for many years, research has shown that team-founded ventures achieve better performance than those founded by individuals. This paper reviews why entrepreneurs form teams, and the process of securing the various types of capital required, to increase the probability of success. A particular focus is placed on social capital and how when complimented with social competence, it can be leveraged to secure financing and build a highly effective, high-performance team.

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Entrepreneurial Founder Teams Document Transcript

  • 1. Running head: ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Entrepreneurial Founder Teams Benjamin S. Cheeks International School of Management, Paris, France Author Note This paper was submitted to fulfill the requirements of Building and Leading Effective Teams, 7010-BLET. I would like to thank Dr. Thomas Schwartz for making the class an interactive and successful learning environment. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Benjamin S. Cheeks. Email: bencheeks@hotmail.com
  • 2. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Abstract The American culture of individualism, self-reliance, and independence celebrates the legend of the lone entrepreneur. However, for many years, research has shown that teamfounded ventures achieve better performance than those founded by individuals. This paper reviews why entrepreneurs form teams, and the process of securing the various types of capital required, to increase the probability of success. A particular focus is placed on social capital and how when complimented with social competence, it can be leveraged to secure financing and build a highly effective, high-performance team. Cheeks 2
  • 3. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Entrepreneurial Founder Teams The American culture of individualism, self-reliance, and independence celebrates the story of the lone entrepreneur; the individual who fights alone against the odds; against the government to build a business with bare hands and strength of will alone. These forces of nature are personified in the likes of Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Rockefeller, and more recently Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Larry Ellison. However, the truth is somewhat different. While establishing a new venture is a human endeavor, team-founded ventures have shown to achieve better performance than individual-founded ventures. A team approach to new venture creation has a strong appeal to investors. Timmons (1975) stated that “a first-rate idea or product without a first rate entrepreneurial team has little appeal to a knowledgeable investor”. Two of the leading early stage venture capital firms put this idea into practice. Y-Combinator is one of the most well-known venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. Their investments include Dropbox and Airbnb. In a recent interview Paul Graham, one of Y-Combinator’s managing partners, had this to say about the investment decision: “Mostly, we look at the people. If they seem determined, flexible, and energetic, and their ideas are not just flamingly terrible, then we'll fund them. We thought Airbnb was a bad idea. We funded it because we really liked the founders. They seemed so determined and so imaginative (Lapowsky, 2013)” David Cohen at TechStars, a leading venture capital firm in Boulder, Colorado says that he vets companies on five criteria. These are “team, team, team, market, and idea, in that order” (Kolodny, 2011). Creating a team has become such a fundamental part of new venture creation that locating a co-founder has become an industry of its own. Sites such as CoFoundersLab.com, Founder2be.com and Techcofounder.com create online communities where Cheeks 3
  • 4. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS entrepreneurs can meet. Business incubators and accelerators frequently host meet-ups for founders searching for co-founders. This paper will investigate the current research on these entrepreneurial founding teams (EFT); why they are formed and how they secure the resources needed to improve their probability of success. A special focus is placed on social capital and how when complimented with social competence, it can help EFTs secure additional resources as well as lay the groundwork to create a highly effective, high-performing management team. Why Study Entrepreneurial Founder Teams Little guidance is available to help founding entrepreneurs choose entrepreneurial team members. Forbes, Borchert, Zellmer-Bruhn & Sapienza (2006) explain this lack of research by the difficulty to identify emerging teams until they have passed through several “formative stages” and the fact that organizational behavior research about teamwork has largely focused on behavior in existing work teams and those without hiring authority, thereby ignoring team formation. In addition, much of the scholarship on entrepreneurs has been focused on the individuals who created the organizations rather than the process of creating the organization. Understanding the formation of EFTs presents an interesting opportunity for researchers interested in understanding more about the entrepreneurial process as well as those interested in studying existing teams. Team formation at this stage of the venture is critical for the future success of the organization. Currently, few norms have been established. Decisions made at this stage have the potential to shape critical areas of the culture of the organization such as the decision-making process and conflict resolution. “If well understood, the process of team formation could be shaped to enhance ventures’ chances of success,” (Forbes, Borchert, Zellmer- Cheeks 4
  • 5. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Bruhn & Sapienza, 2006). Founders could learn how to avoid some of the pitfalls in team selection that lead to skills mismatch, team conflict and turnover. Why Form Teams According to Katzenbach and Smith (1993), there are four reasons that people form teams: 1) teams bring together complimentary skills and experience that exceed any individual; 2) teams support real-time problem solving and are more flexible and responsive to changing demands with greater speed, accuracy, and awareness than individuals; 3) teams provide a unique social dimension that enhances the economic and administrative aspects of work; and 4) teams have more fun. Timmons (1975) listed two common instances in which EFTs are formed. In one instance, an entire team may be formed at the outset based upon an idea or the desire to start a business together. In the second, one person has an idea for a business and seeks out team members to assist in its realization as a business. Nearly 30 years later, Forbes, Borchert, Zellmer-Bruhn & Sapienza (2006) provide a more formal label. The first is based on interpersonal attraction; the second is based upon resource seeking. For completeness, it should be noted that a third reason for creating an EFT was also mentioned. In this case, a team is formed based upon criteria imposed by outside forces. This could include requirements set by venture capitalist in which to receive funding (i.e: the need to hire a CFO), or requirements for government grants or types of funding. However, for this paper, we will concentrate on additions caused by interpersonal attraction and resource seeking. Interpersonal Attraction Interpersonal attraction is rooted in social psychology and refers to the human desire for personal interaction. Examples include such things as collaboration, support, and validation. Forbes, Borchert, Zellmer-Bruhn & Sapienza (2006) refer to this type of member addition as an Cheeks 5
  • 6. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS “opportunistic search”. The new member is usually added without undertaking a formal search. In support of this, Chandler and Lyon (2001) research indicated that teams did not perform a system analysis of their business competencies before adding a new team member, rather a “common interest in the product or technology itself, or a desire to make money were far more significant drivers in determining who would be in the team.” In addition, in a sampling of U.S. entrepreneur teams, Ruef, Aldrich, & Carter (2003) found strong support for homophily1 or likeness, with respect to gender, ethnicity, and previous occupation in team composition. Also, in a study of 202 team-based ventures in Sweden, Steffens, Terjesen, & Davidsson (2012) found that new venture teams were primarily composed of members of the same sex, similar age, and start-up experience. Hinds, Carley, Krackhardt, and Wholey, (2000) found that when selecting future group members, people prefer those of the same race, those with whom they have strong working relationships, and those with a reputation of competence and hard work. They found no correlation for choosing team members with a complementary skill set. Anecdotal data from CoFoundersLab also supports interpersonal attraction. Co-FoundersLab is a company that describes itself as and online matching system to discover entrepreneurs who are looking to join a startup or are seeking a business partner to join them. They interviewed teams from the 2012 classes of two of the top startup accelerators in the world, TechStars and Y Combinator, and asked them where they met their co-founder. Roughly 69% were either classmates, co-workers, or old friends (Hughes, 2013). 1 “The mechanism of homophily explains group composition in terms of the similarity of members' characteristics. In principle, these characteristics may refer to social identities that are attached externally to individuals (e.g., ascribed characteristics such as gender, race, or age) or to internal states concerning values, beliefs, or norms” (Ruef, Aldrich, & Carter ,2003). Cheeks 6
  • 7. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Figure 1: How did you find your Co-Founder? (Hughes, 2013). In the ingeniously entitled article, “THE DEVIL YOU KNOW?”, Zolin, Kuckertz, & Kautonen (2008), researched 170 German entrepreneurial teams to determine the affect that strong ties had on the founder’s ability to modify the team members existing work arrangement and on the potential to terminate the working relationship. Both of these abilities are of significant importance to the entrepreneurial team. The results of the research indicated that strong ties with the team, increases the founder’s ability to modify the team member’s working arrangements, but makes it harder to exit the relationship. Given that role modification increases performance, and the potential to exit the relationship to reduce it, the overall effect of an initial strong tie on the entrepreneurial team member’s subsequent performance was positive. However, another interesting finding of the study was that this proved true only for first-time entrepreneurs. This implies that serial entrepreneurs may rely more on resource seeking. Resource Seeking Cheeks 7
  • 8. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Forbes, Borchert, Zellmer-Bruhn & Sapienza (2006) define behavior as resource seeking when a new member is added to enhance the team’s present or future inventory of resources. The search is considered problemistic, as it is based upon the fact that the team has identified a resource problem and undertaken a search to find a new member to fill this gap. In one example, using a theoretical approach, Larson and Star (1993), propose a network model of organizational formation where founders use existing relationships to mobilize resources based upon existing need. Also Ucbasaran, Lockett, Wright, & Westhead (2003), propose that team members are added to fill gaps in skills and to provide necessary human capital to pursue the goals and strategies of the new venture. Finally, Sandberg (1986) speculated that entrepreneurs fill gaps in their knowledge or experience through hiring managers. The two different motivations for adding team members are likely not mutually exclusive and the truth lies somewhere in between. In order to conserve resources, entrepreneurs look to their social network for partners. In most cases, a person’s social network consists of people similar to them in terms of race, education, and age. Therefore, what started as resource-seeking behavior may result in a decision that appears to be interpersonal behavior. Interpersonal Attraction or Resource Seeking When choosing a co-founder, should one look for interpersonal attraction or should the search be more skill based? Despite the fact that the majority of teams appear to be formed based upon homophily, team members (including co-founders) should be chosen based upon their skill rather than their personality. This is supported by Katzenbach & Smith (1993), who in their study of high-performance teams found those that chose members based upon the right mix of skills improved success. This is also supported by Wasserman (2012), who found that while homophily did have short-term benefits such as speed in finding resources and developing Cheeks 8
  • 9. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS relationships, they were outweighed by the long-term risks such as overlapping skills and missing skills. How to Fill Resource Gaps Whether teams add members for interpersonal reasons or resource-seeking reasons, the lead entrepreneur must be aware of gaps that exist in required resources and how these gaps can be filled. Stockey (2010) lists five types of capital that entrepreneurs use to fill resource gaps.  Financial capital refers to the money that entrepreneurs can use to buy things they need. This money could come from sources such as personal funds, investors, grants, or operational cash flow.  Human capital refers to those skills and knowledge that a person acquires through education or prior work experience. Examples would include industry knowledge, technical skills, and operational skills.  Intellectual capital refers to specialized “know how”, patents, or intellectual property.  Physical capital refers to the specific assets required to run the business. These could be general assets such as office space and vehicles, or specialized assets like production facilities and custom-designed equipment.  Social Capital refers to the benefits gained from one’s social network and relationships with others. It can also include things such as personal reputation, degree, and professional affiliations. Cheeks 9
  • 10. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Figure 2: The Resource Acquisition Framework. (Stockey, 2010). From Social Capital to Social Competence Some have argued that of the five types of capital, social capital is the most important component in helping a new venture to succeed. Brinckmann & Hoegl (2011) found that social capital is more important to the performance of a new venture than their initial teamwork ability. Social capital provides both information and access to financial, physical, and human resources. This explains the placement of “Social Capital” at the center of Stockey’s Resource Acquisition Framework (Stockey, 2010), see Figure 2. Shane & Cable (2002) concluded that direct and indirect social ties between entrepreneurs and 202 seed-stage investors positively influence the selection of ventures to fund the startup. Specifically, the social ties provide an efficient mechanism by which the investors are able to obtain information. In a study of Dutch newventure founders, Bosma, Praag, Thurik, & Tinbergen (2002) found that social capital, as measured by contact with other entrepreneurs in the networks, appears to positively influence new-venture performance. In analyzing the Cambridge High technology cluster, Myint, Cheeks 10
  • 11. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Vyakarnam, & New (2005) found that the social capital of entrepreneurs plays a pivotal role in reducing barriers to entry for new companies. The Cambridge entrepreneurs utilized their social capital to evaluate potential business opportunities, for forming connections with investors, and for recruiting co-founders, advisors, board members, and management teams. However, as with any type of capital, it is not enough to merely possess social capital. The entrepreneur must have the ability to utilize the capital effectively. Baron & Markman (2003) refer to this ability as social competence. They define social competence as the effectiveness in interacting with other persons as based on discrete social skills. To determine these skills, they surveyed literature to determine those social skills shown to have the strongest impact in a business context. That research resulted in the following five skills: (1) Social perception – accuracy in perceiving others (e.g., their traits, intentions, and motives). (2) Impression management – a wide range of techniques for inducing positive reactions in others. (3) Persuasiveness and influence – the ability to change others’ views or behavior in face-to-face encounters. (4) Social adaptability – the ability to adapt to, or feel comfortable in a wide range of social situations. (5) Expressiveness – the ability to express one’s emotions and feelings clearly to generate enthusiasm in others. Using these skills as a basis of analysis to study new ventures, they found that social competency is an important factor in determining the financial success of a new venture (Baron & Markman, 2003). Cheeks 11
  • 12. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Bozeman and Mangematin (2004) say that social competence underpins the production, use, and distribution of knowledge. Lux (2005) states that social competence is the ability to develop and utilize social capital to identify and exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. Baron & Markman (2003) further conjecture that social competence may be of such high value to entrepreneurs due to the fact that as their venture is progressing, they must form social relationships with many different people “from scratch”. It is during these uncertain environments that social competency is highly valued. Another area where social competence is critical is when entrepreneurs meet with potential investors. Cable & Shane (2002) show that direct and indirect social ties have a positive effect on the funding decisions of venture capitalist. This effect of social capital could be the door opening to funds. When studying the presentation skills of entrepreneurs, Clark (2008) found that factors relating to the entrepreneurs’ style of delivery and their ability to “sell themselves” tended to have the highest influence on business angels’ level of investment interest. In another study of entrepreneurial presentations, Baron & Brush (1999), found that one aspect of social competence, social adaptability, to be a significant predictor of measures of their success. The prevailing thought is that social capital (i.e.: education, reputation, network) has the ability to open doors to people important to their success, but it is social competence that allows the entrepreneur to capitalize on the opportunity. Going back to David Cohen of TechStars five criteria of team, team, team, market, and idea, we can see that without social competency, investors may have already decided no before the entrepreneur even gets to the idea. Cheeks 12
  • 13. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Social Competence and the High-Performing Team Social Competence is not just important when the entrepreneur is dealing with external parties such as customers, vendors, and investors. The same skills can help the entrepreneur to succeed in these environments are those that help to create a strong internal team. First of all, new ventures are competing against established firms for a finite set of resources. In this environment, new ventures suffer from a liability of newness (Stinchcombe, 1965). In many cases, entrepreneurs must offer deferred compensation, equity stakes or profit sharing to persuade people to join the team. Given these liabilities, entrepreneurs must be adept at impression management and persuasion to convince others as to what the venture can and will become in order to attract these resources to the firm. Second, it is critical for entrepreneurs to be able to manage the emotional state of the team. In an atmosphere of stress and uncertainty, the social skill of expressiveness, or the ability to express one’s feelings to generate excitement in others, is critical to generating the necessary excitement, conviction, and motivation required to keep the team working at high levels. Third, a major challenge for EFTs is the effective management of conflict. Conflict with an EFT can have a devastating effect on the firm; including the exit of co-founders. In a survey of 450 small businesses in New England, Boyd & Gumpert (1983) found that two-thirds of founders that had gone into business with a partner had dissolved the partnership. The majority was due to conflict. Citing findings from applied psychology and related fields, Markman & Baron (1998), suggest that entrepreneurs with developed social skills will develop better relationships with others and are better suited to “diffuse and resolve” interpersonal conflict. In addition, Bradley, Postlethwaite, & Brown (2013), build on applied psychology to make a connection between Cheeks 13
  • 14. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS open-minded people and agreeableness. They put forward that agreeable and open-minded people are more open to discussion. They then go on to show that teams that are able to maintain an environment that encourage open discussion perform at a higher level that those who do not. In the prior example, it is important to note that when it comes to conflict, the verbs diffuse, resolve, and discuss are used rather than avoid. Avoiding conflict can have a negative impact on team performance. Brinckmann & Hoegl (2011) show that those characteristics of a closely collaborating team have negative impact on venture performance. They put forth that an effective collaborating team may lack the appropriate level of conflict. When managed properly, conflict can energize a team and actually improve performance (Katzenback & Smith, 1993). However, in order to reap the benefits of conflict, it must be the proper type of conflict. Ensley, Pearson, & Amason (2002) review conflict from the dimensions of affective conflict and cognitive conflict. Affective conflict is defined as personally oriented; focusing on personal likes and dislikes. This type of conflict can be divisive and cause problems in decision making. Cognitive conflict is defined as “task oriented and focused on judgmental differences about how to achieve common objectives (Ensley, Pearson, & Amason, 2002). This type of conflict occurs when teams consider alternatives from various perspectives. It is seen as necessary and improves decision-making and overall team performance. Ensley, Pearson, & Amason (2002) proceed further to show that cohesive teams have more cognitive conflict due to the fact that cohesive teams are more likely to have stable interpersonal relationships among the team members and are more adaptable and agreeable. How One Company Encouraged Open Discussion of Issues The Management Team at Bertelsmann, a German multinational mass media corporation, used a unique method to encourage open discussion referred to as “put the fish on the table”. Cheeks 14
  • 15. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Kohlrieser (2010) explains that the analogy comes from Sicily where at the end of the day, the fishermen would put that day’s catch on a large table to clean it. They would work through the messy job together and be rewarded at the end with a great fish dinner. If a fish is left under the table, it will start to rot. Bertelsmann even gave each member of the management team a school of wooden fish to take with them to meetings. When an “uncomfortable” issue would arise, a member of the management team could put his or her fish on the table to signal to the rest of the team there was something that needed to be discussed. It took the focus off the individual and put it on the fish, thereby helping to mitigate the affective conflict. Cheeks 15
  • 16. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Conclusion The American fascination with the solo entrepreneur is not likely to go away anytime soon. However, researchers and practitioners are well aware of the fact that it is new venture teams that achieve better performance. Entrepreneurial teams are built from scratch and the founder entrepreneur should endeavor to form the most effective, high-performing team. The better the dynamics of this process are understood, the more likely it can enhance a venture’s chance of success. And while this paper introduces the issues associated with team formation, the results of this analysis could have an influence on the decision-making and priorities of founders. With a more detailed understanding of why teams are formed and how resources are secured, a framework can be developed to assist the entrepreneur in making these decisions. Given the importance of social capital and social competence on everything from finding and exploiting opportunities, to securing funding, to developing the internal team, founders should spend time before launching their venture working on the social skills from which social competence is developed. Once the venture is launched, there will be little time available to implement this results-benefiting strategy. For those entrepreneurs that do not have an interest in developing these skills, it would be wise to find a co-founder who does. My focus on social skills and social competence of the entrepreneurial team in no way minimizes the importance of other elements. These are two pieces of a complex puzzle that includes such things as the viability of the product or service, market forces, industry trends, technology, competition, and operational execution. Given the founders high-degree of control of developing social skills, determining the skill gaps and acquiring appropriate resources, it should be considered a priority to make these decisions at the outset of a new venture. Cheeks 16
  • 17. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Additional research is related to several issues. The first is defining the appropriate role for the new member addition. When securing resources for the team, founders have the possibility of adding co-founders, advisors, board members, employees, investors, or contractors. Under what circumstances would one role be preferred over the other, how would each be compensated, and more. The findings by Zolin, Kuckertz, & Kautonen (2008), that serial entrepreneurs were not as influenced by strength of ties as were new entrepreneurs leads to the question of why and in what other areas do serial and novice entrepreneurs differ. In conclusion, Stangler (2009), states that the United States might be on the cusp of an entrepreneurship boom. I hope this is true and the future research can develop more concrete guidelines as to what future entrepreneurs should consider when putting together their EFT. Cheeks 17
  • 18. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS References Baron, R. A., & Brush, C. G. (1999). The role of social skills in entrepreneurs’ success: evidence from videotapes of entrepreneurs’ presentations’. In P.D. Reynolds, W. D. Bygrave, N. M. Carter, S. Manigart, C. M. Mason, G. D. Meyer & K. G. Shaver (eds), Frontiers of Entrepreneurship 1999, Wellesley, MA: Babson College, pp. 79-91. Baron, R. A., & Markman, G. D. (2003). Beyond social capital: The role of entrepreneurs' social competence in their financial success. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(1), 41-60. Bosma, N., Van Praag, M., Thurik, R., & De Wit, G. (2004). The value of human and social capital investments for the business performance of startups. Small Business Economics, 23(3), 227-236. Boyd, D. P., & Gumpert, D. E. (1983). Coping with entrepreneurial stress. Harvard Business Review, 61(2), 44-64. Bradley, B. H., Klotz, A. C., Postlethwaite, B. E., & Brown, K. G. (2013). Ready to rumble: How team personality composition and task conflict interact to improve performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 385. Brinckmann, J. and Hoegl, M. (2011), Effects of initial teamwork capability and initial relational capability on the development of new technology-based firms. Strategic Entrepreneurship J., 5: 37–57. Carland, J. C., & Carland Jr., J. W. (2012). A model of shared entrepreneurial leadership. Academy Of Entrepreneurship Journal, 18(2), 71-81. Chandler, G. N., & Lyon, D. W. (2001, August). Entrepreneurial Teams in New Ventures: Composition, Turnover And Performance. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2001, No. 1, pp. A1-A6). Academy of Management. Cheeks 18
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  • 21. ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNDER TEAMS Steffens, P., Terjesen, S., & Davidsson, P. (2012). Birds of a feather get lost together: new venture team composition and performance. Small Business Economics, (39), 727-743. Stinchcombe, A. L. (1965). Social structure and organizations. Stockley, S.(2010) The entrepreneurial team – IED Fellows Lecture 4 [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site: https://workspace.imperial.ac.uk/innovationstudies/Public/Forms/AllItems.aspx Timmons, J. A. (1975). The entrepreneurial team: an american dream or nightmare?. Journal Of Small Business Management, 13(4), 33-38. Ucbasaran, D., Lockett, A., Wright, M., & Westhead, P. (2003). Entrepreneurial Founder Teams: Factors Associated with Member Entry and Exit. Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice, 28(2), 107-127. Vyakarnam, S., Jacobs, R., & Handelberg, J. (1999). Exploring the formation of entrepreneurial teams: the key to rapid growth business?. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 6(2), 153-165. Wasserman, N. (2012). The founder's dilemmas: Anticipating and avoiding the pitfalls that can sink a startup. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. Zolin, R., Kuckertz, A., & Kautonen, T. (2008). The devil you know? The potential downside of strong and weak ties for entrepreneurial team formation. Retrieved from 5th AGSE International Entrepreneurship Research Exchange website: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/17622/1/c17622.pdf Cheeks 21