Great companies get the right people on the bus, and then they figure out where to go.
That way of thinking helps a company achieve greatness, according to Jim Collins, bestselling author of Good To Great. Whereas most startups lead with a defined strategy and then retrofit the team around a particular approach, the great ones (companies characterized by high returns on invested capital, impact and endurance) build the core team first, and then everything else (i.e. the strategy and minimum viable product) is developed afterwards.
"In startups, the team is everything."
Bohrer spent the better part of the last seven years at SeventySix Capital investing in tech startups and watching teams grow. He understands the importance of the team building and the essential role that it plays when launching a new venture. “In startups, the team is everything,” said Bohrer. “Business plans, competition and market conditions are always changing. It’s the team that is able to adapt and execute best that often wins.”
After investing in more than 20 founding teams, Scott got the urge to build his own and go after the $1.5 billion digital coupon market pioneered by RetailMeNot. We sat down with Bohrer to discuss his approach to team building, and how he managed to get the right people on the proverbial bus at Thrive Commerce.
Fishing for cofounders
When most entrepreneurs think of cofounders, they immediately think of friends — people with shared values that they’ve known for a while and fundamentally trust. While Bohrer agrees with the friendship approach to cofounding, he believes that it lacks context.
“You want your cofounders to be friends you’ve worked with before,” said Bohrer. “You need confidence that they can execute.”
The work experience part is important because it’s the only way to validate someone’s work ethic. As a venture capitalist, Bohrer has seen the camaraderie and productivity of teams like StartUp Health and ReverbNation (SeventySix Capital portfolio companies) first hand. “They were great teams because they’ve worked together for seven-plus years on project after project,” said Bohrer.
Bohrer’s first cofounder at Thrive Commerce was Justin Chapman. The two met at SeventySix Capital, where Chapman did a six-month internship at the venture firm as a student at Drexel University. Justin went on the lead product development at one of the firm’s portfolio companies, before launching his own startup called FeedbackLoop, a music subscription service and crowdfunding platform for new artist. The cofounders’ prior work experience gave them the confidence to pursue this new venture together. Justin is currently the director of product development at Thrive Commerce.
Much of what Thrive Commerce does involves retail integrations. Bohrer knew that he needed a proven hitter on his core team with domain experience and specialized knowledge in affiliate marketing.
The only problem was that no one in Scott’s immediate network stood out as the clear-cut candidate.
In order to find the right person, Scott hired three recruiters to do a nationwide search. “Recruiting a core team member is not like filling a regular job opening,” said Bohrer. “The stakes are much higher, so you have to search far and wide to find the right person.”
The right person was Andy Schon.
Schon came in with enough domain experience to write the textbook. He was an early employee and former VP of engineering at Linkshare (acquired by Rakuten for $425 million). He filled the same role at Adknowledge, a global player in the digital marketing space. The systems that Schon helped to engineer at these two companies processed more than $36 billion in online transactions.
With Schon on board, and the founding team now in place, Bohrer was ready to focus on the minimum viable product.
Third-party vendors in the core team
Bohrer wanted to contract a professional firm to build the minimum viable product. He felt like collaborating with a third party was a better and more scalable option than hiring developers.
Whenever a third party handles a critical component of your product offering (similar to how Netflix uses Amazon Web Service for cloud computing), you don’t want to approach it like an outsourcer. It is far more effective to engross the third party into the core team and build a long-term, highly collaborative work relationship, Bohrer said.
That’s why he chose Arcweb, a Philadelphia-based product design and development company that specializes in enterprise technology. Not only are both companies local, but Bohrer has known Chris Cera, CEO of Arcweb, for years and the two have worked together in the past.
Thrive Commerce went live earlier this month as Bohrer continues to build out his team. He recently hired Scott Stuebner to run business development, and he is actively looking to build up the sales team. It will be interesting to see where Bohrer takes Thrive Commerce next, and the people he brings on the bus to help him get there.-30-
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