The 6 Personalities Every Startup Needs To Thrive

No office is a monoculture. Here's how to bring together the personalities that will make your business thrive.

Assembling your team is like putting together a puzzle. To succeed, you need to find the proper combination of complementary talents.

A desire to change the world, think creatively, and to work in a culture of innovation, are all reasons people pursue careers in startups over big companies. America's best and brightest are no longer seeking the corner office--instead, they're offering up their talents to technology companies in the hope of building something better.

Most startups come with a caveat: the agile, fast-paced nature of a newborn business isn't for everyone. The risk-adverse, status quo, complacent-types need not apply. Yet, hiring a bunch of go-getters is not the sole solution to creating a successful team. Big egos and arrogance can turn the office into a battlefield--a killer for a small company.

Instead, strive for balance as you hire. Here are the six personalities every startup needs:

1. The Dreamer

Every startup needs a dreamer. It's a motivating force in creating the company from day one and a sustaining force every day after. Most CEOs and founders have this characteristic, but it's not exclusive to management. The dreamer inspires, excites, and leads the company from a sky-high view.

Don't rely solely on your own leadership. Hiring other dreamers will help sustain momentum when your energy lags. Cultivate this quality in your employees by sharing your big, scary ideas and encourage them to do the same. Consistently communicating your vision to the team empowers them to help you build it (or come up with angles you missed entirely).

2. The Manager

The manager takes a dream and makes it happen. He or she is pragmatic, reliable, and has the initiative to turn ideas in action items. Charisma is less important here, it's all about being approachable, trust-worthy, and forward thinking. The manager understands that while the team needs a vision, it also needs tangible tasks to execute. The manager defines roles, outlines goals, and ensures that each individual is hitting the mark.

Most articles about hiring for startups don't talk about structure--it's not sexy, but it's the most crucial ingredient to achieving the things you envision. The manager will get you there.

3. The Builder

The builder thinks like an architect and acts like a tradesman. He or she has a clear understanding of the company vision and knows how to create it. The builder knows when to seek counsel and when to make an executive decision. He or she is intuitive, bright, and inventive. Ever worked with someone who, with little direction, seems to understand and create exactly what you want? That's the builder at work. I can't emphasize the value of this person enough.

4. The Workhorse

The workhorse is happy to step up and do whatever it takes to make the company engine purr. You will never hear the words: "It's not my job" come out of this person's mouth, and as a result, they will become your rock. The workhorse gets things done behind the scenes, be it ordering office furniture, assisting other team members, or following up on a suggestion you once made in a meeting. In all honesty, chances are most people in a startup will have the workhorse personality trait. Their egos don't need to be stroked, but a little recognition goes a long way.

5. The Penny Pincher

Anyone who's been part of a founding team will empathize with the experience of boot strapping. Funding (if and when it comes) is sweet, but you can never quite shake intolerance for wastefulness and the joy that comes from frugality. I respect team members that understand the importance of being efficient with budgets. The penny pincher questions every purchase and never commits to a cost without first considering the alternative options. He or she is creative with budgets, doesn't spend unnecessarily and understands the difference between need and want (and is accepting of the difference). The penny pincher personality trait speaks volumes to me--it means he or she cares about the long-term health of my company and is committed to getting me there.

6. The Social Butterfly

When there's work to be done it's tempting to create a vacuum. The earphones go on, the chat is switched off, and the body language shouts, "do not disturb." Removing distraction is a vital strategy in getting meaningful work done. Yet, what happens when there's always work to be done? These individual cells of silence can kill company morale when repeated over the long term. Never underestimate the importance of creating strong morale and a fun culture. The person with the ability to create connections among team members, laugh at themselves and others, and shift perspective at the right time, is an essential ingredient to a happy team.

A range of complementary personalities will lend your office a diversity of perspectives--and help you solve the hiring puzzle.

Jon Stein is the founder and CEO of Betterment. Passionate about helping people make smart decisions with their money, he founded the online brokerage in 2008. His interests lie at the intersection of behavior, psychology, and economics.

For more thoughts from Jon, read why Your Startup Is A Tribe (And Your Customers Are Members, Too).

[Image: Flickr user I,Timmy]

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6 Comments

  • Lindsay Evans

    This is a fascinating list of the different people that would comprise a good start-up team. I find myself agreeing in all of them but wondering if there are even more personalities needed. And that only takes care of the human aspect too. Here's an article which discusses more on what a start-up needs, http://smallbusiness.printplac....

  • Lori Collerman

    Great article! I think the key message here is the value of diversity. A team of all the same type of personalities will bring the same input, but a business needs a variety of skills, talent, and abilities. If you have six staff who all want to create their own dream, none will become reality. If you have six staff who all just want routine work, then the innovations necessary for success won't happen. You can see from this article that everyone brings something different like pieces of a puzzle, and when fitted together, a complete picture or vision is realized.

  • Ara ohanian

    Jon, I’ve run a number of start-ups myself and there’s only one think you need to worry about – cash flow! But seriously, I like your list and I agree it’s easy to forget the balance of abilities you need when you’re starting out. I’d only make one slight change to the list – in a start up there's no room for passengers. Everyone has to be a workhorse.

  • Guillermo Ginesta

    I feel that some of these can be overlapping. A dreamer can be a social butterfly, and the manager can be a builder too.

  • Luanne Tierney

    Whether you are a start-up or an established company, all work, and no play can lead to burn out. When that happens, employees, products and companies all suffer. One of the most important personalities to have on board is what I call "The Balancer:" someone who reminds you  to add a little time to your day just for you, and not 12 hours non stop for the company. "The Balancer" is the one who lets us all know that taking even a half-hour just for "me time" can help us all recharge and come back with more energy and focus. Luanne Tierney