Building the A-Team for Your (Deep Tech) Startup | SGInnovate

Building the A-Team for Your (Deep Tech) Startup

Saturday, October 19, 2019

In the early days of starting a company, startup founders are essentially THE team. They need to wear many different hats and are expected to be agile and resourceful enough to take on multiple roles, all at once.

But as the company grows, the needs of the different business functions, such as sales and marketing, finance, talent management, product development, customer support and more will naturally expand. The founders need to start focusing their time and efforts on their areas of expertise. This signals the time for the company to consider hiring the right leaders to help the business scale up with maximum acceleration. 

Ultimately, what drives every good company – big or small – is its people. The right people with the right skill sets. A smart founder must understand the need for different leadership capabilities in order to create maximum shareholder value for the company. 

While these fundamentals apply broadly to all companies, Deep Tech startups, do have some added considerations in their search for the right leaders. With scientific research at its core, Deep Tech encompasses transformational technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles (AV), MedTech and quantum technologies. These areas are technology-intensive, possesses unique intellectual property (IP), are difficult to replicate and has a high barrier to entry.

And that is why finding the right leaders for a Deep Tech startup requires some additional considerations.

Understanding the Different Roles in a Startup

It is of critical importance to have a clear understanding of the different roles within an organisation.

With a management team of experts who can excel in the specific roles that they are hired for, the company’s growth path will be in good hands.

Below is a breakdown of the key roles within a startup. While the exact naming conventions may vary across startups, the job roles are largely the same:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): The highest-ranking corporate officer and the head of management for the company, the CEO is tasked with the responsibility of reporting to the board of directors. The CEO will have the ultimate responsibility for the company’s activities and signs off on contracts and other legally-binding actions on behalf of the company.
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO): The COO manages the day-to-day affairs of the company and reports directly to the CEO. While the CEO is concerned with the long-term business goals, the COO is the person on the ground responsible for executing the business plans required to achieve the goals.
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO): The CTO’s primary job is to ensure the company’s technology strategy serves its business strategy. The task of creating the first iteration of the startup’s product usually falls to the CTO.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Dubbed the “Money Person”, the CFO manages all financial-related matters such as income, expenses, investments and more, within the company. The CFO does the data analysis, financial planning, record keeping, analysing the company’s financial strengths and weaknesses and proposing corrective actions to take the company towards a profitable path.
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): The CMO is responsible for the activities related to creating, communicating and delivering offerings that have value for customers, clients or business partners. To facilitate growth and increase sales, the CMO develops comprehensive marketing plans that aim to promote brand recognition and help the organisation gain a competitive advantage within the industry.

For a Deep Tech startup, nine times out of 10, the CTO is the first two hires. These technical founders, or entrepreneurial scientists, are often researchers themselves who have spent years in intensive R&D work. Thus, it is not uncommon for Deep Tech startups to have some form of the technology being built, even before the company has a name.

Now that you are up to speed with the different functions within a management team, the challenge lies in finding the perfect ‘fit’ for your company.


Value Relationship Over Qualifications

While startup founders may be experts in their own fields, many of them have no idea how to go about hiring a new talent, or what to look out for. 

One bad apple could create a toxic environment that can affect the morale and productivity for the rest of the team and company.

This is particularly true for a startup, where C-level and senior hires are akin to inviting someone to join your family. They are the captains, the lieutenants, the decision-makers behind major decisions that can determine whether the company will sink or swim. 

Because of this responsibility, the executive team needs more than just industry skills or experience. They need to complement each other, even in personal characteristics, and help the group become more than the sum of its parts. They need to find the right mix of people who can complement them on the managerial bench, with an eye on the commercial considerations.

The difficult truth is that not all startups will be successful. Failure is part-and-parcel of the entrepreneurial journey. For Deep Tech startups, which have a longer time-to-market and require patient capital from investors, it could be years before the product that you are building will see the light of day. Are your team members able to persevere through the tough times and stick together through thick and thin?

Insecure Founders Make Bad Decisions

Some founders have the impression that they must always be the smartest person in the room. Perhaps you might have topped your class at the best universities in the world or have decades of experience from running companies in the past. 

But ego and pride should always be set aside when business decisions are involved, as this only limits the growth of the company. 

Founders need to step away from their fear of hiring someone that is smarter or more experienced than them. It is highly recommended to get another set of opinion by consulting a third-party or a mentor to ensure that you are not making a rash or biased decision.

Lack of Access to Talent Marketplaces

How one goes about finding a C-level or senior hire to lead the company would differ greatly from the typical searching and hiring process of normal employees. You want the cream of the crop, so going onto a job portal and listing down the positions would not cut it. Also, for Deep Tech startups, you’re probably unlikely to find someone with specific expertise, say, a background in working in a quantum tech company, all that easily.  

While time-consuming, networking is a time-honoured way of finding new hires. Go onto your LinkedIn and indicate an open position that you’re looking to fill and the kind of person you are looking for. Your peers that are in the same industry as you might have recommendations and can introduce you to these potential candidates. 

Alternatively, attend networking events related to your industry. To find someone with the right expertise for your Deep Tech startup, besides reaching out to institutes of higher learning (IHLs) or research institutions, do keep an open mind and look beyond the community that you are familiar with. SGInnovate connects the Deep Tech ecosystem through a slew of community and networking events for researchers, entrepreneurs and investors, who share experiences on a wide range of topics.

Building Your A-Team

C-level and senior leaders within the company are responsible for steering the company in the right direction, making the decisions that can make or break a company, so the decision to hire the right person should not be taken lightly.

As an entrepreneur or a startup founder, your job is not to reach the goal – it is to build the team that will help you do that.

At SGInnovate, we have a dedicated team to bring together the brightest minds from across the Deep Tech ecosystem to create a marketplace where talent and Deep Tech startups can seek each other out.

Topics: Investments, Startup and Corporate Open Innovation, Talent and Mentoring

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